Power Creep in Pandaria -- Part 2

Posted by Daeity On Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Why Are They Doing This?

The rate of content consumption is also a quality vs quantity struggle. Content consumption is harmful to Blizzard and it needs to be regulated and controlled. Right now, it's very important to slow it down and get older content consumed again. Blizzard wants to deliver higher quality content, at a slower rate, rather than quantity (bad quality at a higher rate.)

High leveled players will start visiting older dungeons and raids again, because the item drops will be useful again. They want players to re-consume old content so that they don't have to put out as much anymore, or at such a high rate. It's basically a way to buy them time to produce higher quality future content.

The Item Squish will get players progressing more slowly in higher tiered dungeons and raids. Because of the difficulty to progress, it slows down our growth rate to match content delivery. It doesn't, though, make dungeons more difficult to complete.. this isn't about making dungeons harder (that was an attempt made by Blizzard, but it failed), it's more about "not jumping ahead" too quickly to new content.

The Item Squish is really smart from a business standpoint and for future planning. I hope that other MMORPG developers don't make this same mistake, and you can be confident that Diablo 3 and Titan won't be making this same power creep mistake in their own expansion packs.

  • This change starts setting a new pace for players that Blizzard wants. Players are consuming content too quickly, and Blizzard needs to slow them down.
  • This gets players prepared for future games and expansion packs. After MOP, expansion packs will debut with a smaller number of zones and dungeons, so that they can be added as major content patches later when Blizzard is ready.
  • It's possible that MOP might be the last major Expansion Pack, and future "expansion packs" will be more DLC (smaller Digital Download only mini expansion packs.)
  • Old content is no longer wasted and unused.
  • Players now have more to do, and more options available. This is the big one: giving players more options, rather than being stuck with the same dungeon run over and over.
  • Content is no longer skipped over, and players must progress through Blizzard's content at a certain rate (more lore delivered this way too.)
  • This gives players the impression that Blizzard is "constantly delivering" and "updating" the game. They cut out content that should have been released in the expansion pack, but instead release it in smaller bits at a time.
  • Players are happy that there's a constant flow of new content to consume, even if they don't realize they're being fed with smaller portions.
  • Originally, Blizzard was going to deliver monthly major content, which didn't work out for obvious reasons. It's an old sore spot that they're finally able to address.
  • Slowing down consumption gives the artists and designers more time to create new content. Less stress, and less time needed to figure out how to ramp up item stats for new dungeons, encounters, or expansion packs.
Blizzard Already Doing The Prep Work?

In the past, Blizzard has already tried several methods to get players re-visiting old content:
  • The Cataclysm expansion pack itself.
  • Adding Heroic difficulty levels to dungeons.
  • Dailies and Seasonal Events that require traveling all over the World of Warcraft.
  • The Archaeology (/spit) profession.
  • Transmogrification.
  • Exploration (hidden gems) and Exploration Achievements.
  • Lore quests that sent you to many destinations.
  • Special Events that only take place within older Dungeons.
  • "Path of Titans" was meant to do this too, but it was cut.
The idea was to make more "new options" and "new places" available but by re-using all older content that might have been skipped, run through too quickly, or just unnecessary (like old items.) Blizzard is trying to re-use everything in the game to avoid hard questions about content delivery and so that hard work isn't wasted. It's also a really cheap way to avoid costs, resources and work. Doing this saves them a TON of money.

They also tried different ways of extending longevity and controlling content consumption:
  • Leveling restrictions. Once you hit 80, you HAVE to move onto CATA or else you receive 10% experience gains.
  • Making dungeon encounters difficult in the beginning, and then nerf them later.
  • New Dungeons rolled out more slowly. Less zones/dungeons in Expansion Packs. Introduced as Major Content Patches after 2-3 months.
  • PVP Seasons, locking in items until Blizzard is ready for the next round of consumption.
  • New Talent Changes to shake things up, make things new/novel again.
  • And of course, all of the obvious stuff to keep players busy, like professions, auction house, exploration, achievements, pet battles, seasonal events, etc.
Even with the Item Squish, even though it's "just an idea", they've already made arrangements to start getting players prepared for it (and for internal testing purposes):
  • Ghostcrawler's Forum Post, of course, making everyone aware.
  • Creating items that have scaling stats: Heirlooms.
  • Buffs, Spell Damage and Mana Utilization is all based off percentage calculations (of base numbers) now instead of fixed numbers in the past.
  • Changing Tool Tips to get players familiar with "Costs 20% of Base MP" calculations. So, when the change comes.. all of the Ability Tool Tips and Descriptions still stay the same. :)
  • Another New Talent System (skill based rather than number manipulation.)
(Note: I haven't played the game in many years now, so if there are any other pieces you've noticed in-game that relate to this, let me know and I'll add it to these lists.)

Other Alternatives

The big problem with the Item Squish is the feeling of being nerfed. It doesn't matter if everything else is normalized, once those big numbers disappear there's going to be a lot of rage.

Role Playing Games are all about creating a better player (better than everyone else), so it's very important to give them a feeling of progression and a godlike sense. Everyone wants to a god, after all. :)

This is a problem that only affects high level players though. There's an alternative option available where high level players stay the same (still godlike), the power creep issue is fixed, and you can make low level players feel better about themselves.

The "Item Inflation" Method

What you do is eliminate the power creep between Cataclysm and Mists of Pandaria, so no huge item stat increase between the transition. This just leaves power creep issues which span from Vanilla to Cataclysm. During those phases you create an Item Inflation.

So, something like this:

What happens here is that everything scales properly from Vanilla all the way to the end of MOP. But, new characters will start out with (what they think is) uber awesome gear stats, but mobs are also adjusted so they still take the same length of the time to kill.

High level players stay the same, and low level players feel awesome again. Big changes are going to happen anyways, but at least in this scenario, high level players are happy, there's no mass exodus, and Blizzard receives the same result: no more power creep.

Even Ghostcrawler's "large number calculations" don't even need to be used in this approach; because of the relative progression, large numbers can just be "displayed" for users to see, but they're actually represented by smaller numbers (and smaller calculations) on the back-end. Having uneven exponential growths in their numbers, like how it is now, is what led to their problems. Not that any of this should have been a problem in the first place.. even 2 trillion isn't exactly a very big number for modern computers.

The Future

Because of this approach Blizzard is taking, you can start to make assumptions about their future games and expansion packs. For example, there won't be "uber items" available within Diablo X1 or Titan expansions. They also plan on leaving out a ton of content so that it can be added later as a major content patch.. new dungeons, mobs, bosses, or rares added to Diablo later for example.

This gives Diablo 3 the impression of frequent content addition, even though all of it was originally intended in the first full package. Titan will be the same. New expansions will have, say 2-3 "dungeons", and 4-5 new "dungeons" will be added for the following 2 years before the next expansion pack.

Blizzard wants players to keep reusing old content over and over and over. They'll find new methods to get you revisiting older content (e.g. difficulty levels.) This is almost how Diablo 3 was completely designed from the ground up. :)

With Item Squishing or Inflation, because dungeons take longer to progress, Blizzard can start introducing even newer ways to get players visiting older dungeons. For example, rare spawns with high-level stats that appear in older dungeons. So, a Level 90 might visit Level 75-80 Dungeons, take a long time to beat the dungeon, only so that there might be a chance of a rare boss appearing that carries Level 90 items. WOW players will roam for rares, just like in Diablo 3.

Oh, and one interesting note about Item Squishing.. it's going to bring back the good old days of bugs and exploits. :) There are a lot of mobs, abilities and items to go through.. and some will be missed. So, there might be a mob with an uber-damaging ability still based on old calculations, or a special item/gear piece missed that still has uber-stats. A lot of unchanged "bugged" stuff is going to make it's way through, and they'll be exploited quite a bit. :)

They would have to make the change during a quiet period.. so, months before launch or months after launch. With my Item Inflation method, though, there's less likely chance of exploitation, because bugged items can only be underpowered and they would really only have to specifically focus on boss skills. :)