Kill it with Fire!

 So a flex raid of 1 hunter, 2 priests, 3 druids, 2 death knights, 3 paladins, 2 warriors, 3 monks, 2 shamans, a mage, a rogue and a warlock walk into the Senate Tower on Coruscant. Why didn’t you hear about it? Regulos got there first.

Now that I’ve gotten your attention with a horrible joke, I bet you’re wondering why I spent 30 minutes writing a joke that involved WoW, SWtoR and Rift. Well, those are the 3 really big MMOs (at least at the time of publication). All 3 of them have well covered progression teams, they all have a prominent spot on Zam and best of all, chances are you’ve played all 3 of them.

Now, this week I’m doing something special. Jesse’s birthday is on the 10th of April and in commemoration of the anniversary of the birth of one of our dear leaders (or dictator supreme or whatever term they use nowadays), I went up to her and said “Pick a topic, whatever you want, as hard or as easy as you want, and Ill put down at least 10 pages on it”. After a few minutes of deliberation she decided. “My favourite game is WoW and I’ve heard Carson go on about how this or that new MMO will be the WoW killer. So far he’s been wrong. So, what will the WoW killer look like?”

There I had it. Toughest subject yet? Maybe. Well, most likely. Actually, yes, this one is brutal. Personally, I don’t really like WoW. I’ll spend a few pages talking about why I don’t like it and what game will likely beat it.

Firstly, why don’t I like WoW? Well, remember my bit on accessibility vs. ease of use? Well WoW hits that issue right on the head. In the beginning of WoW the game was incredibly hard to play on anything but the most casual level (you know, filling out your roster of level 60 guys). If you wanted to get anywhere in the pro circuit or even the semi-pro circuit you needed to have powerful connections and you needed to have time to devote wholly to WoW. This basically excluded anyone who had a 9 to 5, regardless of innate skill, from participating in anything other than the low-tier 5 mans. Sure, there were exceptions for people who were well connected. If your high-school buddy was the main tank for Paragon you could likely get into some low or medium level raiding, but if you wanted to see Kel’thuzad you were out of luck. This was patently bad, and Blizzard knew it. So in Burning Crusade they added a bit of accessibility. Having competent gear was no longer wholly the purview of those with a well-established circle of friends. You could get raiding gear from the brand new heroics.

Unfortunately, this wasn’t quite enough. If you started playing The Burning Crusade on launch day and didn’t stop playing until you had downed Kil’jaeden you could probably manage a top end raiding spot with a 9-5 job. I met a few people in TBC that even managed it with a kid. Unfortunately, by the time Carson got into WoW (he started in TBC) everyone who was worth playing with had moved past heroics and were either running raids exclusively or had a 5 man squad they ran with for the money and disenchantables. I mean, I’m not saying Carson had it in him to even drop Illidan, but the fact that he had nobody to run with besides the stoners, the casuals and the work-a-day players definitely set his career back.

Soon The Lich King came out. This was the point at which things hit their peak. However, it was also the point where some troublesome elements started popping up. You see, instead of moving to make 5 mans and raids more accessible, Blizzard instead made them easier. Yes, WotLK was when LFG finally hit the market but by then Blizzard had done the damage. The reduced difficulty of dungeons and raids had set a new paradigm for the general populace. Yes, the truly core raiders were still hauling ass to get their purples but now you didn’t really have to worry about CC (that’s Crowd Control, mom, abilities that exist purely to take certain elements out of the picture for 30 seconds so that the damage dealers can mop up the easy mobs. Think of it this way, you’re playing Poker, you know your opponent has a royal flush in the making, so you use a special rule to remove the Jack of Hearts from play, eliminating any chance at your opponent revealing his god hand). You could resolve any conflict by dropping enough nukes on it. Creative pulling was no longer an issue because most enemies didn’t have the health to take Rain of Fire, Consecrate, and Death and Decay at the same time, while those that did have the health didn’t really have the damage to make a difference without their buddies.

From there on it was mostly downhill. Blizzard saw that more people were participating in endgame content and figured they were doing it right. Whereas before only 2 or 3 teams per server were clearing the expansion boss, now we were up to 10 or 20. Not to mention the fact that the 4 tier difficulty system had everyone seeing the final boss in some form. As far as everyone at Blizzard was concerned it was time for beer and nachos. So each expansion after Lich King saw more and more people clearing the final boss.

There was a problem with this, however, that Blizzard failed to see. Discontent was growing amongst all levels because WoW was getting to be too fast. Leveling was no longer an epic journey, it was merely something you blazed through in 3 or 4 days to get to the good part. Once you got to the good part, however, you were hit with the fact that it simply wasn’t as challenging as before. Instead of using Looking for Group and Looking for Raid as a way to train perspective raiders, heroics and LFR content had been cut down to the point where they were like normal quests with a little more health. WoW hasn’t gotten more accessible since LK, it had gotten easier. People were downing Garrosh on RF and calling it a day and the core were complaining about the fact that anybody could kill Garrosh.

Now, I could go on for days about what’s wrong with WoW but that really isn’t my style. I like resolutions, not conflicts. So. How do we kill this thing? First lets define our terms. “What will the WoW killer look like” this one is a little simpler than other thesis statements I’ve used. First let’s define “WoW killer”.

When I say “WoW killer” I refer to a theoretical game, this game doesn’t exist and I don’t know anyone who even has the design docs written up. So, when I say WoW killer, I refer to a theoretical MMORPG with a class system, a leveling system, professions, quests, events, and a big open world. In other words, it will be the spiritual successor to WoW. Now, the term “WoW killer” was thrown around a lot a few years ago, around when Star Wars: The Old Republic and Rift : Planes of Telara came out. These games were amazing, and while ToR hasn’t really lived up to it’s potential, they were both excellent proofs of concept.

When I say “what will it look like” I refer to mechanical differences, additions and subtractions. I’m not looking at lore or graphics. Rift is graphically superior to WoW and Star Wars… well, if you can find a lore set better fleshed out than Star Wars or Lord of the Rings (which also has an MMO) then I’ll eat my hat. Yet, neither of these entries has succeeded in dethroning WoW. So to put it all together, “What mechanics and features will be present in the game that kicks WoW from the throne of most popular video game of all time”.

First I want to get the unpleasant bit out of the way. Who will publish the WoW killer. As much as it chafes me in all the wrong places, the WoW killer will be published by either EA, Activision, or whatever publisher is analogous in the post WoW era. That is to say, its going to take someone at least as big as EA or Activision to kill WoW. Yes, I know, Activision owns Blizzard and EA published TOR, but that is the bit. Nobody in the gaming world besides Activision and Electronic Arts has the financial firepower to do it. Why is that? Simple. WoW has momentum. 2014 Is the 10th anniversary of WoW and it has held a virtual monopoly this entire time. Millions of people play WoW. That’s right, mom, not thousands, not tens of thousands. Azeroth has a higher population than Australia. Whenever a game comes out that, by all rights, should beat WoW, it gets eclipsed by the sheer numbers. No amount of mechanical tweaks or graphical updates will carry a WoW killer. Rift proved such. Rift has better graphics, a more intuitive crafting system and all of the bells and whistles associated with WoW like loot rolls, class roles, and auto-queues, and yet it’s still looked at as WoW’s not-quite-right cousin. Whatever game kills WoW will have to blossom fully formed, with all of the features mentioned below (plus some, most likely) fully integrated at launch day. Unfortunately, only the super huge AAA publishers even come close to swinging around that kind of mojo and, short of Bill Gates, no individual is going to finance that kind of bad boy out of pocket. Seriously, Blizzard spends more money in 5 months just maintaining their servers then most 1-shot AAA productions spend in their entire development cycle. Whoever makes the WoW killer will have to have at least $4,178,073 (the monthly cost of maintaining WoW’s servers) per month to just throw around -independent of- the cost of producing the game. For that money you could make a Dragon Age clone every 5 months and still have enough money to take your entire executive board to Aruba every year. On top of it all, that doesn’t even cover the cost of making that bad boy. That figure I gave you doesn’t even include level designers, script writers or any of the frills that actually lets you crank out new raids and zones. Once again, whoever makes the WoW killer is going to be a fiscal supergiant.

Now that money is out of the way. Lets talk about mechanics. This is going to be a long one. So, first, the crafting system. The WoW-killer’s crafting system is going to be incredibly intricate but simple to learn. The WoW killer will likely have a loot system based entirely around crafting. I see a WoW-killer that completely does away with boss loot tables, instead opting for a list of materials that each enemy in a zone, dungeon or raid has a varying chance to drop. For example, a standard green piece of gear may cost 5 Simplite and 14 essence of stuffmaking to craft. If you want to get a rare quality item you will have to throw in 4 Raritanium and a Bluetinite on top of that, if you want to get an epic you need to throw in 5 super ichor and a Purplium essence on top of the Raritanium, Bluetinite, Simplite and Essence of Stuff Making.

So how do you maintain rarity? How do you make it so that you don’t really get the top end stuff without doing the top end dungeons? Easy, Simplite and Essence of Stuffmaking have a 10% drop in the open world, Raritanium drops in heroics and first tier raids, Blutinite drops off of bosses, and Purpilium only drops off of first tier raids and up. Of course, there’s a .0001 drop rate (or lower) for Purpilite on open world mobs, you want people knowing about all this awesome loot just sitting there and that if they work hard its right at their finger tips. On top of that, put a gear list into the game that allows people to track specific pieces. For example, I just killed Wipetron 5000 and he dropped 1 purpilite, I have a bar tracking the progress towards finishing the Belt of Awesome Name, now I know that I should be able to build my belt after running the Halls of Healermute 1 or 2 more times, or, if I’m lucky, the final boss of the dungeon, Pult, Tosser of Gnomes will drop all 3 of the pieces I need. If you really wanted to get crafty (see what I did there?) you can make it so that different materials drop off of each dungeon with different drop rates. Warframe does this well. It labels clearly what mats drop off what maps, and you get a clear marker in the crafting screen telling you how close you are to finishing your brand new shotgun. The point would be to replace the “run till it drops” paradigm with something a little less painful. Think of it this way, you have been running Black Temple every week for the better part of a year now, trying to get your Warglaives of Azzinoth. Wouldn’t it be cool if, instead of a 5% droprate every time you kill Illidan it cost 15 Orange Ore to make each glaive? Every boss in the dungeon has a 5% drop rate of Orange Ore except Illidan, who has a 90% drop rate, which means you’re almost guaranteed a piece of Orange Ore every week you run. That way, the Glaives are still super-challenging to acquire, but people like me who share a less than copacetic relationship with random number generators don’t have to farm for 4 years to get those damn glaives.

Moving on. What will quests look like? Lets shift our gaze to Rift. I think the WoW killer will have a slightly beefier version of Instant Adventures. Imagine if the phasing zones of Azeroth shifted in accordance with the Instant Adventure system. Okay, for the 5 of you who haven’t at least tried Rift, each zone has a series of quests called Adventures. You queue for them like any dungeon, and when your queue comes up you get launched into an endless series of quests. There are about 10 Adventures per zone and they can be completed at your leisure, or you can just complete your normal quests and get reduced experience as the rest of your Adventure group completes the adventure quests. The WoW killer will take this to a whole new level.

Imagine, you are a level 5 Forsaken slogging your way through Tirisfal Glades. You queue for the instant adventures and find that they revolve around the 2 exits of Tirisfal (the one leading to Silverpine and the one leading to Plaguelands). If you participate in the Plaguelands side then you get matched against the Scarlet Crusade, fresh off the boat from Northrend, aching to sink their blades into the last of the undead, they don’t care that you are free willed and essentially good. You aren’t human, so they’re coming for you. If you choose the Silver Pine exit you get matched against Garrosh’s Kor’kron elite guard whom are under orders to bend your race, the Forsaken Undead, into mindless biological weapons to be unleashed on the Alliance. You will still have your standard quests that lead from one hub to another, but when you get bored you can hop on the instant adventures.

On top of that, the phasing system present in WoW will allow you to see the effects of your efforts. For example, if not enough people assist in the Plaguelands side of the adventure then the Bulwark falls under control of the Scarlet Crusade until the next time the adventure series takes you to the Bulwark, If not enough people participate in the Silverpine side of the adventure then the open path between Tirisfal and Silverpine is replaced with a fortification of Kor’kron guards. These new encampments don’t need to be impassable, they just need to make it feel like getting to the next zone is a little more of a pain in the behind. For example, the Bulwark, instead of having the Kor’kron guardpost will have some standard level-appropriate Crusaders that you could just as easily fight or run through. The Silverpine exit, instead of having diseased wildlife (Tirisfal and Silverpine are undead territory, after all) will have a few level appropriate elite Kor’kron. These guys wont be able to one shot you but chances are, unless you’re a warrior, it would be better to just slip around the side or swim across lake Lordemere instead of charging through.

That seems like an awfully specific example. Let me try again. Imagine a version of Vale of Eternal blossoms with Instant Adventures. If there’s enough participation then the zone is populated by Pandaren and Mogu. However, if there isn’t enough participation, then some of the most popular quest hubs resemble the gates of Icecrown, populated exclusively by Sha and Mantids.

While we’re here, lets talk about something that has been bugging all of us for a while. Minigames. “Oh, come on, Author, you had us going for everything up until here”. Before the pitchforks come out, I am not saying that the WoW killer will be bogged down with bejeweled and memory clones. Do you remember that railshooter at the beginning of Pandaria? Its literally the very first quest in the entire expansion. You can’t even get to the first town in Pandaria without completing it. Well, that is what I mean when I say “minigames” the WoW-killer will have loads of them. Let’s swing back to professions for a second. I dare anyone here to find someone who finds professions fun. I’m sure there’s someone out there reading this, everyone has that one friend who absolutely had to be the exception for every rule. “Nobody could beat Contra on 3 lives” “Oh, I could!” “breaking a knee sucks” “oh I broke my knee last year and it felt fine” yeah, screw that guy, no honest person out there likes professions. Farming can be engaging, especially if you’ve had a long day and just want to shore up your gold reserves, but in reality, nobody likes having to find that one last White Trillium vein. How will the WoW killer solve this? Minigames. Every crafting system out there has cases where you just have to find one super rare material. If your game has a crafting system then it will have at least a million characters who are stuck at 249 in one profession because they don’t want to spend 20 hours farming primal water. So, how will the WoW killer do it? Instead of the standard “you just hit 350 enchanting, come back to town and buy your new patterns”, the WoW killer will feature a minigame. Keep in mind, this minigame will not be a tacked on gimmick, it will be a full featured game in itself. Imagine how fun it would be if you could skip 10 levels per profession per expansion with a minigame. Say, for example, you get up to 440 engineering and just hit a brick wall, pyrite veins simply refuse to spawn for you and you are on day 3 of the hunt for a stack of pyrite. You are dead broke so you can’t just buy it (we all know how much professions cost to level) but there’s good news! You haven’t used Cataclysm’s engineering minigame so you return to your trainer and play through a shooting gallery minigame where you test out a randomly generated pile of guns and crossbows.

Man, at the bottom of page 8 and I’m not even close to done. You know what? Screw it, Ill go as far as I have to. Lets look at dungeons and raids. Now, I know that I said in my first or second essay that I wouldn’t tell you what my favourite MMORPG is. Well, I lied, its Rift. Why do I like Rift? While its a number of points from instant adventures to crafting, the real selling point of Rift is it’s dungeons and raids. Simply put. Rift is bloody hard. There is so much stuff to pay attention to, so many customization options and loadout choices. You can be a healing mage, a DPS cleric or a buff-centered warrior. Rift succeeded in making a traditional MMORPG that didn’t really rely on the holy trinity of DPS, heals, and tank. However, this is a feature that only Rift should try to pull off, I am not at all in support of every MMO having the create-your-class system. We are here to talk about dungeons and raids. What Rift did was, in simple terms, make raid and heroic encounters that were on par challenge wise with The Burning Crusade with the accessibility of Lich King. This is WoW’s fatal flaw, they got all of the accessibility but dumped most of the difficulty. Whatever game replaces WoW will have a Pre-WotLK difficulty curve with the ease of access afforded by the LFG and LFR systems. Now, I’m not saying I want to see elite teams barely scrape by LFR, what I am saying is that most people… okay, I’ve done every LFR boss from Morchok in Cataclysm to Garrosh Hellscream in Pandaria. How many of those bosses do you think I remember the mechanics to? None of them. Looking For Raid is so easy that so long as you don’t sit there picking your nose you are guaranteed your loot. This is, on it’s face, bad. Intermediate difficulty settings are there to prepare you for the real content. Yes, many games have a casual setting and that’s all well and good, but you can’t even beat the first level of Gears of War on casual without occasionally having to duck for cover. Simply put, if you are so drunk that you can’t type the phrase “requesting Battle Rez” you should not be able to clear LFR. Gear walks aren’t fun, they aren’t cool, they aren’t engaging. The current LFR model is antithetical to everything that is a video game is. I don’t care what you have to say about Dear Esther or Proteus. LFR is not a game. It is a movie with button presses, it is one step above those action sequences that we all complain about in adventure games (what is a game, essay seed).

Well, there’s one bit that none of this resolves. As I said before, WoW is huge, I simply can not describe here how absolutely titanic WoW is. No matter how hard EA or Activision slugs this one out of the park, WoW will simply overpower the WoW killer with sheer inertia, that’s what happened with Rift. When Rift came out, everyone thought that WoW was done for, but WoW just took it’s losses, bode it’s time, and when it turned out that there simply weren’t enough people switching over to stop WoW in it’s tracks Blizzard came along, implemented all of the cool parts of Rift, slapped a fresh coat of Azerothean paint on it and called it innovation. No matter how big the WoW killer is, WoW simply has way too much inertia to be stopped by an MMORPG with any level of backing. So, once again, what will the WoW killer have to do? Well, just like how The Burning Legion is so big and so powerful that it will only be stopped by a military force comprised of every single army past, present and future, WoW is going to take every single gamer to kill. If the WoW killer tries to step up to the plate with just it’s own merits as an exceptional MMORPG, it will simply get steamrolled by WoW’s energy level. The WoW killer will die not with a bang, but with a pathetic whimper (and perhaps that bump you feel when you run over a squirrel with your car. So, how will the WoW killer rally every single gamer out there to kill WoW? The WoW killer won’t be just another MMORPG. We’ve seen hints about it in Blizzard’s marketing strategy, look at games like Hearthstone and Heroes of the Storm. Blizzard is currently experimenting with daisy-chaining all of their disparate games together into a super-goliath. The WoW killer will have to master this new discipline of multi-genre engagement. The WoW killer will have a related strategy game, a related shooter, maybe even a connected platformer or standalone tablet game. All of these elements will go together to support the central MMORPG.

So, how will the WoW killer do that? There is still one MMORPG giant that I haven’t mentioned yet. EVE Online. CCP has it figured out. They figured out how to get gamers engaged in the EVE universe even if they don’t like MMORPGs or space sims. On May 14, 2013, CCP came out with a game called Dust 514. Dust 514 is an FPS set in the EVE Online universe. No big deal, right? Spinoffs have been around since the dawn of the literary tradition. Wrong. Dust 514 stands to change everything. While games have been coming out with related content and spinoffs for as long as there have been games, Dust 514 does something wholly unique. You see, whatever you do in Dust 514’s multiplayer has a direct impact on the related MMORPG. Territory lines are drawn along with victories and defeats in Dust 514. How does this work? Well, in Dust, you play a space marine and participate in various missions, the missions are set by the corporations in EVE which are set by players of EVE. So, if you win a certain planet in Dust on behalf of a given megacorp then the planet becomes safe territory for EVE players in the MMO.

Now, I am massively oversimplifying seeing as how I have never played EVE or Dust 514, but the WoW killer will have several similar spinoffs. Players will set everything from the quality of certain shops to the factional allegiance of a given town or region through play. Imagine this: you are playing Warcraft 3 online, before every match you select a character from your WoW roster. Once you’ve done this, you dive right into the game, and every time you win the custom map Honor Hold (for example) you get points depending on your character’s faction and server. Those points go towards a pool that resets daily. At daily reset time every day the pool is emptied and whichever side has the most points controls Honor Hold. Now, clearly, if Blizzard were to adopt this method they wouldn’t use Honor Hold since you can’t even start Outland without passing through there as alliance, but the WoW killer will use something like this. This would allow people who prefer RTS games to participate in the WoW killer even if they don’t like MMORPGs.

However, what if your wife likes shooters and not MMORPGs? The WoW killer will have thought of that. Imagine if Starcraft : Ghost revealed that Aiur (homeworld of the Protoss) is actually the new name of Argus after the fall of Sargeras (I have a pet theory that Starcraft is actually the Warcraft universe in the super-future, perhaps that could be an essay seed). Now imagine if before every Starcraft or Starcraft : Ghost match Nozdormu showed up and asked what faction and shard you wanted your pilfered goods too go to if you win. This is the WoW killer’s only hope of beating WoW. The WoW killer will have to reach beyond the central MMORPG market for participants simply because there will always bee a good chunk of WoW fans who won’t even try the new game (we all know that one fanboy who won’t even watch a letsplay if the game comes from a publisher or developer that isn’t on the fanboy’s Oprah list. This Author knew a guy named Tim who refused to allow any game that wasn’t released on a Nintendo console into his house. I also used to know a guy named Derek who wouldn’t even entertain conversation relating to a game that wasn’t a shooter with a professional circuit, last I heard he was trying to go pro on Gears of War. There’s even a guest star (who will remain unnamed) on the Something Wicked Games letsplay channel that won’t even try a game if it doesn’t metacritic above 9.0, the man is only part of the team because he’s been buddies with with the guy who’s nailing the boss since highschool). The hole left by these fanboys will have to be filled by people who don’t play MMORPGs.

So, we have the dungeons, the quests, and the crafting out of the way. Whats left? Well, there’s the most important part of every video game. Monetization. How will we pay for the WoW-killer. Simple. The WoW killer will be free to play. At most, you will have to pay for the base game and expansions at 50 bucks a pop, but as far as monthly subscriptions go there will not be one. Why is this? What is the most important part of an MMORPG’s community? The dudes who make mods and the dudes that fill out the wikia. Without those people you have a jumble of nonsensical mechanics. Think about it. Think way back in time. Think to your first experience with an MMORPG. The world was huge. Titanic. I remember my first run through Tirisfal. I got out of Deathknell, realized there was this huge zone beyond it and my jaw dropped. A day later, I learned that Tirisfal was but the first of literally dozens of zones. I had no idea how to get anywhere or do anything. I tried asking general chat and got a resounding “Figure it out or stop playing, F-ggot”. If it wasn’t for WoWhead and WoWiki I would still be dumbfounded. MMORPGs are, by nature, incredibly complicated. Most people don’t have the time to even maintain their own roster of characters, let alone help others manage theirs. So, who has the time to edit the source pages? Remember that story a few years ago about that dude who lived with his parents and died of an embolism after his 4 day long sleepless WoW marathon? Yeah, that guy was one of the people who did all of the number crunching and fact checking necessary to compile WoWhead, Light bless. Our source pages are written almost exclusively by people who don’t have day jobs and spend all their time writing crappy essays for some 2 bit column.

As I said once before. There are 2 types of gamers, the ones with lots of money and no time and those with lots of time and no money. The ones with lots of time are the ones writing about how Illidan is the quintessential tragic antihero. So, how do we fund a game aimed at these nerds? We shovel all of the costs onto the guys with lots of money. The WoW killer will have no mandatory monthly subscription, none of the monthly payment plans will bar access to core gameplay elements (like dungeons, raids, level caps, etc) and will fund itself entirely on purchase sales, microtransactions and and (optional) monthly loyalty payments. 100% of the game will be available to the free to play folks and all expenses will be paid by those who feel that their money is less valuable than their time. Imagine a WoW that is 100% free but has a 100% experience bonus for those willing to throw down the standard $15 a month. On top of that, the WoW-killer will have an absolutely titanic cash shop. The WoW-killer won’t have any of that 25 dollar mount stuff either. Nothing (excluding server transfers, renames, race switches, instant 90s, etc) will cost more than 10 USD. You will be able to buy experience vials that triple your experience gain (and stack with the subscription and rested bonuses) and you will be able to buy cash-shop only mounts and vanity gear. On top of that, the cash shop items will be available to the free-to-play guys at a substantial markup for in-game currency. For example, you could pay 200 gold for a 24 hour exp vial, 500 for a 24 hour rep/valor vial, or $3.50 for the lot.

On top of that, the WoW killer will have an incentive system, each cash shop purchase will come with so many points that can be cashed in for perks that aren’t even available in the cash shop. Think the $72 monocle from Eve, but instead of $72 it costs 44000 Frequent Buyer points. Rift did an interesting proof of concept on this, you got a gauge that filled up only when you spent real money and every time you fill the gauge you get some platinum, some planarite, and maybe a mount that could only be acquired through that gauge.

Now, there’s one issue here. It’s been a major issue since the dawn of online games. The problem is so insidious that most of our devs have decided to marginalize it. What do we do about online harassment? I won’t argue the distinction between trolls and cyberbullies (though there is a -very- distinct difference between the two, essay seed right there) but I will talk briefly here about how the WoW-killer will tackle that issue.

So, how will the WoW-killer tackle online harassment? In short, it won’t. Okay, before the pitchforks come out, I am not saying that the WoW-killer will ignore the bullies all-together, I’m just saying that the proverb “don’t feed the troll” fits in snug as a glove here. Let me explain. Every dev worth a straw penny keeps metrics. How often you use the shotgun, how many attempts you took on world 5-1, what map sees the most replays, etc. In addition, every single game that revolves around social interaction, by necessity, needs to keep track of who has who on their friend list, who has who on ignore, who is in the same guild as who, etc. So, we have our chocolate, we have our peanut butter, lets mix ’em up.

The WoW-killer will use all of this information to perfect the matchmaking process. The WoW killer, in addition to Friend, Truefriend, and Guild rosters (as WoW has right now), will have a 4th list. The “match me with that dude again” list. How will this list work? At the end of every matchmaking session (be it LFG, LFR, Battleground, etc.) you will get a check box asking who in the group you would like to get matched with again. Everyone you select will be added to a list. Every time in the future that you queue for a random group the match making system will first scan your run-again list. If the matchmaking system fails to find enough people queued for the same thing you are on your list then it will check how many people have you on their list and match you with someone who has a similar number of likes. For example, I just queued for a random LFR. First the match making system will check my run-again list for people who are queuing for random LFR and throw me in whatever raid has the largest number of my run-again people. If the resulting group doesn’t have 25 members (the required number to run LFR) then the system will check for how many people have selected run again for everyone in the party (that is, how many people outside of this group who have selected group members for run-again) and average the number together (we will call the final number of this calculation X). In math terms, x will represent the run-again score of the raid members in the equation (x1+x2+x3 …)/n=X whereas n is the number of people in the current group. The matchmaking system will then take how the number times each member of the group has been ignored or reported for behavior, average that number together (henceforth Y) using the equation (y1+y2+y3 …)/n=Y and perform the equation X-Y=Z. Z will be the score that the party uses to determine who else from the queue gets thrown in with the party. So, to simplify, the matchmaking system will find the average feedback score (henceforth Z) of the party and match it with people scored similarly.

This will allow the matchmaking system to determine who in the community is an upstanding individual (without regard to skill) and group them exclusively with other responsible players, while grouping the negative elements (the harassers and whatnot) almost exclusively with eachother. Needless to say, nobody actively seeks grouping with the uncooperative, and those who dont aim to cooperate will be excluded from most games with the well intentioned. Now, I am no mathematician, I can’t program worth a diseased targ and there are plenty of people out there who could math this out better than I. I invite those people to take a swing at such a grouping system.

Finally, what will the endgame look like? I always have trouble getting back into WoW after a long break. The reason for this is a tragic side effect of Blizzard’s “everyone wins something” policy. Back in the days of TBC and WotLK, if you took a month off for one reason or another you basically still had everything in order when you got back. Yes, you might lose your raid slot but there were dozens of guilds trying to progress, you could just join one of those. You were still a significant chunk ahead of the unwashed masses. Such is not the case nowadays. Nowadays, if you are a core raider and had to take a break because of some big project at work or something like that, you are basically slammed back to the baseline. Gear comes so quick and so easy after every patch. Seriously, before my last break from WoW I was being groomed for a progression raiding slot, I took a month off because we ran out of money and now there are week-old 90s with better gear than mine. It reminds me of the Red Queen’s race. For those of you who don’t remember Through the Looking Glass, the Red Queen’s race was a race that took place on a treadmill, when Alice asked why they were doing such the queen replied “Now, here, you see, it takes all the running you can do, to keep in the same place. If you want to get somewhere else, you must run at least twice as fast as that [sic]”.

So, how would I resolve this? I can’t. There is no way I can think of to fix WoW’s gear system. What I can do, however is offer an alternative that alleviates the frustration and solves power creep at the same time. This bit will have a slightly different tone than the rest of the essay as it’s pure conjecture. So what would I do to alleviate post-break frustration and deal a significant blow to power creep and button bloat? Well, in Warlords of Draenor gear is getting reset to pre-TBC levels, instead of doing 250,000 DPS, you will likely be doing 2500. I suggest taking this a step further. If I worked for Blizzard, then the expansion after Warlords would not expand the max level. Max level would stay at 100, instead I would use an effective level system. Its not much different than the item level system used today, but instead of using the Dewey Decimal system (400-430 being starter gear for Pandaria, 300-400 being gear for Cata, etc). It would mark what your effective level is. For example, if you are level 100 and have a set of gear that gives a total of 10 points worth of stat upgrades (like Intelligence) and 40 points worth of bonus upgrades (like spellpower) then your effective level would be 102. this way you could say “my item level is 504” you could say “my effective level is 104” and you wouldn’t have to use massive numbers to signify slight changes in power. This would solve button bloat since the lack of experience levels negates the need for new spells and the effective level system would make it such that instead of each content patch requiring a re-setting of the baseline, you could instead just have an endgame that resembles the leveling rush. Nobody feels bad about their friend being 2 levels higher because its just a matter of time until one gets there. However, Blizzard has and will continue to lose subs because of the fact that people who are pulled from the game are suddenly and noticeably sub par. Plus, as a side note: getting bitten by a peacock in Pandaria deals more damage (before armor) than Kel’thuzad’s strongest attack in vanilla, really?!

I was going to call it here on the essay but Jim brought to mind a pretty big point. I simply assumed that everyone knew this by now, so I skimmed past it. Let us talk about PVP. Lets get the easy bit out of the way. The WoW killer will have at -least- 2 playable factions, most likely more. Now, I don’t mean Alliance/Horde then that half assed Aldor/Scryer deal that they only held for TBC. While the Aldor/Scryer thing will exist in the WoW-killer, they will hold you to that choice in further expansions. We aren’t discussing that bit. We are merely discussing the primary faction you pick at character creation.

Now, why is the Alliance/Horde split so important? Remember my deal about the An’qiraj effect? This is the super-combo of game design. You want people frothing at the mouth to get at eachother and, by extension, into your game. WoW’s number 1 selling point is how hard the Alliance and Horde are going at it. Blizzard did this by selling the Alliance and Horde as 2 sides of the classic RPG ethical dichotomy. I could write an essay on that one (and probably will) but in short, while standard storytelling mediums draw the line between good and evil, RPGs since Dungeons and Dragons have drawn the line instead between order and chaos. This was clearly and thoroughly a genius idea. You get people in on the concept of promoting the logical extreme of a lifestyle and then keep them in on the idea that the other side is absolutely reprehensible. If I was in on the decision, however, there would be 3 factions: The Alliance, The Horde, and the Illidari; but that is beside the point.

So, how will the WoW-killer do it? The WoW-killer will stick with the arena/battleground system. WoW has pretty much hit the sweet spot there. However, there are a few issues with how WoW handles it’s factions. Back in Vanilla your faction actually meant something. Currently the only difference between Alliance and Horde is the color of your flag and whether you follow a blue skinned Jamaican or a paper-white Englishman. Back in vanilla, your faction was everything. There were entire classes and dungeons you couldn’t play if you didn’t pick the right faction. On top of that there was an actual war going on. The alliance and horde had player-maintained staging grounds all over the world from Lordaeron in the northeast to Tanaris in the southwest. Tarren mill and Southshore were engaging in epic battle literally every day, you could log on any hour of the day or night and Silithus would be a wasteland of corpses as the 2 factions duked it for the first to complete the new raid.

Unfortunately, such is no longer the case. Yes, we had the Landfall event of Pandaria and Wintergrasp of Lich King, but the actual war between alliance and horde has since cooled. The WoW-killer will have an An’qiraj event every expansion. For example: imagine if at the end of Cataclysm Vol’jin actually built a capital on that little dinky island, Orgrimmar was closed to the public, and the entire expansion revolved around breaking down the doors of Orgrimmar. You would still have all of the Pandaria raids, all the quests would be exactly the same but instead of that cheap little parlor trick they pulled with the Landfall event, you had an event that started with the release of the Thunder king raid (just like Landfall), took place entirely in Vale of Eternal Blossoms and revolved around cracking open the door that lead to the first half of the Seige raid.

Also (and I know this goes back to the bit on how to fight bullying) lets talk about open world PVP. Simply put, the WoW killer will flag people by level range. I am not going to argue with you about whether open-world PvP should be a thing. Honestly, the fact that this argument goes on at all sickens me. Seriously. I don’t care how you feel about the opposing faction, the idea that someone you don’t even know deserves to have their corpse sat on for 3 days on end by you and your entire guild rotating shifts is fucking disgusting. Getting killed for 2 hours at a stretch for having the audacity to level a character without already possessing a full roster of raid-geared toons and a top end guild is fucking disgusting. You aren’t participating in fair play. You aren’t enriching the game for anyone. You aren’t ‘enforcing the consequences of in game choices’ as that asshole at Blizzcon tried to say about griefing garrisons (I really wish Metzen called that guy out on it). You are a slimy, bottom feeding pile of filth and a drag on a community of people who are only there in the first place to escape the predators of the real world. I’ve heard people say “well sometimes I’m farming Mithril and there’s a level 40 guy that’s closer to the node than I am”. Wrong! You have flying, you can reach 5 nodes in the time it takes the other person to get one.

As I was saying. How will the WoW killer handle this? The WoW killer will take one of two positions on this. The WoW-killer will tie PVP flagging to your battle ground bracket (that is to say, for example, open world PvP will file into the queuing brackets battle grounds use. You know. 15-22, 23-29, etc) allowing only people in your battleground bracket to attack you if you are flagged for PVP for any reason (either you are on a PVP server or you flagged on a PVE server). Either that or the WoW-killer will only allow you to attack people less than 3 levels below the highest member of your party. That is to say, a level 40 character can attack anyone above level 37, if you have a 4 member party being lead about by a 90 then you can’t attack anyone below 87, etc.

So there goes my bit on how to make a WoW-like that will kill WoW. Man, that wasn’t nearly as long as I expected it to be. I’m sure I could have gone on but I think I’ve said enough without being too repetitive. I have no idea what next week’s subject is so drop me a line with suggestions, all of my information is in Need Additional Pylons.

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