Power Creep in Pandaria -- Part 1

Posted by Daeity On Tuesday, December 20, 2011

I'm switching gears here for a moment, because I really wanted to talk about Mists of Pandaria and one potentially significant upcoming change.

Two months before Cataclysm came out, TOD made a post about Cataclysm "Repeating the Past". His idea was trying to make items from Classic Dungeons (and the Dungeons themselves) useful or novel again, and in general, to get players using older dungeons again because they were practically empty with the introduction of new expansion packs. After all, it's a shame that all of that immense work had went into designing the art and media, only to be abandoned at the onset of the next expansion pack release.

"With scaled gear, you can still have the same old equipment look (with or without a slightly different name) but with different stats scaled for the player. They've already been doing this experimentation with heirlooms, so it shouldn't be that hard to do it with old instance drops."
Remarkably (maybe even suspiciously) clairvoyant of the new Transmogrification system, wouldn't you say? That post is also relevant for another issue.

Transmogrification is one of Blizzard's latest attempt to get players revisiting classic dungeons, and to bring in diversity and novelty once again to the game. But Mists of Pandaria will also be introducing (maybe) a new fix to correct the power creep issues and to make all older items, dungeons and quests viable and even fun again.

Blizzard is calling this "The Great Item Squish (or Not) of Pandaria". It's an older post and you've probably read it already.

All of the discussions I've seen about this potential update is "Me me me. How does this effect me?" They want to talk about it's impact and how it affects players. No one is talking about WHY they're doing it. Even Ghostcrawler never fully explained why they're doing it.. only that "because the numbers are too big" and that "users might not like it."

So, what are the real reasons then? We know that the change must be financially motivated.. so what are the reasons from a business perspective? That's what I want to talk about. :)

A Quick Recap

Blizzard wants to fix the power creep issue through two "options":

Option 1

The first option was Ghostcrawler's "Mega Damage solution". It basically means following the same route they've already been taking, but to change the appearance of the big numbers because they take up too much space on the screen.

In regards to these "big numbers", Ghostcrawler wrote;
"Now there are some very real computational limitations. PCs just can’t quickly perform math on very large numbers, so we’d have to solve all of those problems as well."
I hope no one actually bought this. He's talking about "big numbers" like 150,000 instead of 20,000. We're not talking about calculating monster prime numbers that are 2^32,123,456-1 digits long. It sounds like an old man trying to describe these new fancy com-pu-ter ma-chines. :)

None of this really matters though. He kept this part of his post really short, exaggerated the issue, and tried to shrug the whole thing off as a ridiculous "alternative option". This means that he has no intention of even considering this and the team has already set their sights on the Item Squish option.

This is like when you go to your parents and ask them for something ridiculously overpriced, so that when they say no, you can "reluctantly settle" for what you really wanted in the first place.

The "Mega Damage solution" is not really a serious option.

Option 2

This is the Item Squish. I trust that you already understand what they're planning on doing.

Basically, they're going to take gear stats and "even everything out" so that it's a consistent power growth from Vanilla all the way to Mists of Pandaria without any major "bursts" in item power. The term "Green is the new Purple" will no longer apply to future expansion packs.

They want to make growth rates more like this:

Fig. 5. Item level vs. character level before and after ‘squish’. Brown = vanilla. Green = BC. Blue = LK. Red = Cat

And, of course, users are split on this potential update. Mostly because players will feel as though it's a major nerf.

But, it's not just the players and their items getting the "nerf", mobs and bosses will also be adjusted accordingly. You'll still be healing and damaging at the same percentiles as normal, but you'll just see smaller numbers on the screen.

However, they will be making it so that soloing old content will be much harder, but you'll receive viable awards based on the difficulty level. Because there will be a marginal difference between level 85 and 90, you can still run CATA dungeons (and even WOTLK dungeons) for gear that can be used in level 90 encounters.

Everything in the game will be changed relatively, and they want the entire game back to how it was with "expansions" within Vanilla (ie, major content updates like dungeon additions).

Understanding The Problem

I think it's a very good idea for the Item Squish, and it's something they should have done a long time ago. They probably started to realize the implications by late mid-late WOTLK.. it definitely wasn't during TBC. :)

What it comes down to is a problem of content consumption versus our need for growth.

Blizzard spent a lot of time building dungeons, raids, instances, and scripted events. During Vanilla, most players on average had visited all of the dungeons/raids and rather frequently. They consumed the content slowly, at the pace the Blizzard preferred.

Once TBC rolled out (and follow up expansion packs), there was no more need to visit old dungeons, and they would just skip ahead to end game content. Older dungeons didn't need to be visited anymore, especially with players carrying you through pre-raid or end game content. Dungeons, raids, and capital cities became ghost towns. (Something that wasn't a good impression for new players, which is why they made capital cities central quest hubs again.)

Since players grew faster than they could consume content, Blizzard was (is) always under increased pressure to produce new content for us.

And, there's a finite limit to the amount of content they can provide for us before it just become recycled garbage. Everything needs to be slowed down, from player growth to player consumption to content creation to creative process and resources.

It was really fun in the beginning, but they burned through so many ideas (i.e. dungeon designs, art, audio effects, encounters, mobs and bosses) that they're now realizing that they need to start saving up this content for future use and not allow it to be consumed so quickly.

There's also the issue of creative burnout, something also experienced in the music and book industry. The video game industry is not immune from writer's block. If things move too quickly, and they don't keep filling up their "creativity pool" (for future expansion packs and games), then their games start getting repetitive or boring, and they have to resort to common world objects for creative inspiration, like using every kind of animal as a race, mob or boss. I can't remember.. did they already do a Cow Boss, Lobster Boss, Bird Boss, Snake Boss, Tiger Boss, or Panther Boss? :)

More to come..