EDITORIAL: So, Call To Arms, then…

by on April 7, 2011


Lest you hadn’t heard: Blizzard have decided that the only way to entice enough people to play tanks or healers in the effectively-anonymous LFD tool is to bribe them with rare mounts and occasional flasks.

The blogophere’s already exploded with opinions, so I won’t go for a lengthy dissection of the pros and cons of the Call to Arms idea as a whole. See our roundup of posts about it if you want all the opinions you’ll ever need! But here are a few points I’m not seeing discussed terribly much…

  • This system only rewards tanks for completing dungeons – if the group falls apart or you get kicked, you get nothing. That’s likely to discourage the flood of DPS DKs in Blood Presence that some people are expecting. However, it’ll also mean that a significant number of the tanks in the LFD system are incentivised to drop group as soon as they believe they’re unlikely to complete an instance. Expect Grim Batol and Stonecore to be a tank-free wasteland as every new tank zones in, goes “Oh, god, this one’s a nightmare to complete”, and promptly goes offline…
  • Various people have noted that this new approach doesn’t address the core reasons why people don’t tank at all, instead merely pasting a band-aid of additional reward over the problem. I agree – the problem’s that tanking has a higher chance of attracting abuse and hassle, and that’s a function of the LFD tool and the environment it fosters.Many people have then said that this is Blizzard’s desigh failure. There I don’t agree.

    IMO, Blizzard have shown pretty consistently, with the introduction of the LFD tool and subsequent changes aimed at making it harder to vote-kick, that they have a very specific design aim – to create an environment where everyone, no matter how socially inept (or, to put it another way, no matter how much of an asshole they are), is able to join a dungeon group and thus have at least something to do at endgame. This approach maximises Blizzard’s incoming revenue – a lot of their playerbase have social problems, either of ineptitude or poor impulse control. If their design strategy was to exclude or punish people acting in an antisocial way, those players would leave and take their monthly fee with them.

    Blizzard don’t get paid more money for happier players – just for more players. We may not like the approach they’re taking (and I believe it has long-term issues, as I’ll mention below) but it’s a consistent and rational approach to social design for the game from a business perspective.

  • But surely it would be impossible to fix the actual problems with LFD? Well, no, it wouldn’t. I’ve been managing large communities for nearly 14 years now on the Internet, and the LFD Tool community is simply manifesting a fairly well-known problem. Fully-anonymous communities with no oversight and very few to no consequences for their actions tend toward a very specific social style, characterised by disregard for real-world social norms and a very high level of aggression and confrontation – see 4Chan for the best-known example.

    There’s a well-known and tested fix for this, which is to introduce a level of moderation: the best-known success story was the BoingBoing comments, which were able to reopen and maintain at least some level of civility after Teresa Neilsen Haiden joined them as community moderator. Blizzard could work along similar lines – either by introducing a reputation system, or simply by tightening their TOS to prohibit harassment and verbal abuse, and hiring a bunch of additional moderators to police the increased complaint load.

    However, either solution would dramatically change their playerbase, and probably result in WoW losing a considerable number of the less socially able players – which, as I mention above, would seem to run counter to their current community design goals and revenue strategy.

  • A tiny point – why now? Because of the change to daily quests in 4.1. With tanks able to run all their Valor-producing dungeon runs in a couple of multi-run sessions with guildies, we’re going to see even less tanks in LFD. Blizzard are predicting this and moving to, at least temporarily, stem the flow away.
  • This is a band-aid. Yes, it is. It’s not going to work forever. However, I’m increasingly starting to feel that the current WoW design strategy is aimed at life-support rather than long-term stability and growth. I don’t have a lot of proof of this, but the combination of an obvious temporary strategy to increase the utility of the LFD tool, the increase in re-worked dungeons rather than original content (a cheap way to extend the game’s lifespan), the general reduced content of Cataclysm compared to previous patches, and the fact that it’s well known the top WoW designers have all moved on to the Titan project all contribute.

    I get the feeling Blizzard knows and has accepted that WoW’s days are numbered, and is using strategies like this, like the larger strategy of keeping the maximum playerbase in play, and like reusing content wherever possible, to extend the revenue stream from WoW as much as possible without investing too much new designer time so that TItan and other projects can progress and eventually take over.

    What do you think? Anything else about the Call To Arms that we should have spotted?

If you enjoyed this article, check out our other posts from these categories: Editorial Feature,General MMO Interest,World of Warcraft

{ 19 comments… read them below or add one }

Mhorgrim April 7, 2011 at 9:16 pm

On your final points, I totally agree. I enjoy WoW, and will be playing it for awhile yet. I havent seen any other game that is out that sparks my interest. there will be a time when I quit. But yes, FunCom did the same thing with Age of Conan, just a lot shorter lived because of an epic fail launch. They give alot of new bells and whistles, but really with only one major expansion in 5 years and destroying their pvp community they put the game on life support. WoW is most likely going the same route. It has been the most successful game out there. I figure personally I will be able to enjyo the game another couple of years simply because there is still a lot I enjoy about the game. All games have a lifespan and eventually all games go off into the night. They don’t die, there will always be a player base for them. EQ and DAoC are good examples of this. They just won’t be the mega games they used to be and will mostly be concerned with maintaining lifesupport to create revenue rather than anything truely innovative. Again, this is ok.

One thing I would like to comment on though. The LFG tool was something the players were begging for. The addition for the call to arms is in direct reflection of what the player base wanted. Yet now, people are screaming bloody murder over it. This is what happens when you think you know what you want only to find out it isnt what you thought.  I’m lucky, I rarely ever have to deal with Puggers anymore. My guild takes care of me and that’s my advice to everyone else, get into a guild you are honestly happy with, fulfills your needs and don’t worry about the stuff that’s meant for the solo players to keep them entertained.

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Saniel April 8, 2011 at 5:10 pm

You hit the nail on the head, much more eloquently than I did.
The one thing I take exception to, and it’s something I see repeated in a lot of places, is this: “general reduced content of Cataclysm compared to previous patches.”
I would agree with this if it said “general reduced post-Wrath content” or something like that.  Yes, from 80-85 it feels like there’s less to do than there was in other expansions.  But the work Blizz did on the old world cannot be understated.  While a few zones feel relatively untouched, there are some that feel nothing short of entirely new.  Many have different shapes and different terrain features.  Many old quests remain, many more have been streamlined, and there are a metric ton of new ones.  The entire old world was redesigned to make it flyable.
I used to dread the 30-45 range of leveling.  Choices were STV, which I was sick to death of, or a handful of other zones (*cough*Desolace*cough*) that were even worse.
When I took my new Worgen Hunter through STV while questing…I couldn’t believe it.  I’ve never had more fun in a single zone.  I stayed up hours past my bedtime trying to finish because I didn’t want to stop.  Doing that to STV is no small amount of work.
It’s easy to overlook all that work and all that new content.  Especially if you only play your max-level characters or consider heirlooms an essential part of leveling so you can skip through it as fast as possible.  (Not saying you do that, just making a general statement.)  But believe me, it’s a huge difference and it’s a very welcome one.

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Top Rosters April 8, 2011 at 5:12 pm

I agree in part but don’t completely buy this apocalypse feeling that is running through the wow blogosphere. Blizzard is naturally focusing on a new generation MMO but I disagree that these changes are “band aids.” The LFD system needed something to encourage players to use it more. I know many players who will not even use it for their daily heroic – preffering to skip it that day if there is no guild group going. There are simply not enough good tanks and healers using it. Hopefully this change will encourage more 359+ tanks and healers to use it again for the chance at getting a mount as well as other things.
 
Of course you could be right and we may end up with a load of dpsers queueing as tanks and healers with poor gear and lack of experience. This would be very detrimental to the experience and would make me stop using LFD for good.
 
Time will tell but I really hope it works out as using the LFD is so much quicker than assembling groups in trade or whatever for your alts.

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Eric April 8, 2011 at 6:09 pm

I think the Call to Arms change highlights the fact that WoW currently has two “endgames.” One for people with social skills, one for people without them. The former endgame has been alive and well since Vanilla, and Blizzard is still supporting it. The same really can’t be said for the latter though, due to the difficulty of designing group content for groups that have zero cohesion and no way to exclude unskilled and disruptive players. Battlegrounds are about the only form of content that works long term for such groups, since one bad group is likely to be an appropriate challenge for the next. Unfortunately Blizzard’s bottom line demanded that they provide more than BGs to attract and retain players who are uninterested or unable to participate in the “real” endgame, and so we got the random dungeon finder, with all its obvious and unavoidable flaws.
The 4.1 changes are certainly a bandaid fix to an ugly and unsustainable system, but how much does it really impact people who participate in more traditional endgame activities? WoW’s endgames are still pretty segregated, and will probably remain so until they implement a random raid or random arena partner finder system. Thanks to the LFD tool players definitely have to pass through a layer of poop between leveling and being ready for the raiding endgame, just like PvPers have had to do since BC, but the real endgame is still there, as challenging as ever.

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Hugmenot April 8, 2011 at 7:45 pm

I believe Blizzard is addressing a problem way too late to correct it and that is in fact too late to correct it.
In my opinion, Blizzard missed a golden opportunity to address the tanking problem with the revamp of Azeroth. Leveling characters are overpowered and leveling instances are so trivial when 5-manned that it does not matter how disorganized groups are.  I believe such a combination encourages gogogo-type behavior and no one learns to play their role because there is no point to not kill en-masses (except healers to some extent as they do throw a heal here and there).
To expect players to learn their roles when they start running heroics (and no longer overpowered) is a fool’s wish and I can’t see the Call to Arms bonus to have any long-term effect.

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Lujanera April 9, 2011 at 12:38 am

So far, I haven’t seen anybody “screaming bloody murder” about the goody bag.  If anything, the consensus seems to be that this won’t change anything.  The incentives are too small to matter to the majority of tanks or potential tanks.
Even if each bag contains 100g, an inferno ruby and a flask, there are faster ways to make gold.  A Baron run or a trip through MgT can be completed faster than a random heroic.  Basically, the goody bag will reward tanks for doing what they would do anyway; very few additional tanks will enter LFD as a result.

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Chloe April 9, 2011 at 1:51 am

I agree with Hug.  Leveling lowbie characters teaches next to nothing about group skills.  Nothing is a challenge like it used to be — the numbers are just plain different.  Nothing hits hard.  If you’re a mage, you can take hits in SM and survive.  Where are the role skills being taught? They’re not. People are learning the game thinking every instance is just a “get 5 people together and steamroll a dungeon” setting.  It’s not…really the good places left to play are guilds where you have a quality group of people to interact with.

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Paul April 9, 2011 at 5:41 am

What do I think? I think that given the way Blizzard is treating WoW in Cataclysm, I’ll buy their next MMO some time after hell freezes over.

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Hugh Hancock April 9, 2011 at 1:24 pm

Saniel – Yes, completely agreed, I should have said “Post-Wrath content” or even “group content” (which I think is the key problem.
Top Rosters – I didn’t actually argue that we’ll see a lot of DPS queuing as tanks – that’s an argument other people have made, but I don’t think it’s going to be a long-term problem. However, as other people (noticably Big Bear Butt, quite eloquently) have said, these rewards simply aren’t enough to persuade most experienced tanks to go back into the viper pit that is LFD. I’ve been playing tanks for 4 years, and I’ll not even be checking my Call To Arms screen when 4.1 arrives – there’s not enough incentive.
Eric – very good point on the issue of two endgames – that’s a very good analysis. However, I’d disagree that the social endgame is as well-supported as ever. From the perspective of the co-leader of a small guild, I’d say that things have gone seriously downhill in Cataclysm – with no PUG raids and the anonymous LFD tool meaning no need to put together same-server PUG groups for them, it’s very hard to meet or recruit new players. If your guild’s huge, you’re fine, but as we highlighted a couple of weeks ago, a lot of guilds are losing one or two people, finding it impossible to replace them, and folding.
Lujanera – /agree. It’s a pathetic reward. Doesn’t make me inclined to sign up for two hours of likely abuse.
Hugemnot, Chloe – I think this is actually a subtly different problem, but I agree. In addition, the lack of difficulty or need for a tank in lower levels will actually turn off the very people who might like end-game tanking.
Paul – I feel your pain.
Great comments, everyone, keep ‘em coming!
 

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Doone April 9, 2011 at 5:55 pm

The second point is a little misleading or at least it doesn’t give the whole picture.
It is true blizzard in the short term gets more out of having a larger player base at the expense of a happier one but long-term it is disastrous for the game.  Consider that all the resources going into gimmicking more players into the pool are resources which aren’t used to actually make a better game.
Those 10 hours put into making a celestial steed to buy for cash was 10 hours not spent on improving the LFD.
In other words, they make a more profitable game at the expense of an improved game, which is not a sound business decision unless you are planning on shutting down the franchise someday.  I am not suggesting there haven’t been attempts at improvement.  I am saying that when you invest in one place you are taking investment from another.  It is not a better business decision to simply have a bigger playerbase at the expense of a happier player base.  Happy players will invest very long term and spend crazy amounts of money on a good product.  A pool of unhappy players just dwindles over time and they will eventually not pay for a mediocre product.
 

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Doone April 9, 2011 at 6:03 pm

You’re right that its too late, but the solution propose would not be effective today.  You cannot undo what is done and leveling dungeons havent required competency for years.
The only real solution, and one they are wholly unwilling to invest in, is to stop making a traditional tank and healer mandatory for a dungeon run.  Design encounters that can be tanked by shadow priests, or rogues.  Design encounters where aggro is irrelevant.  Make use of the 30 classes and instead of hanging all our destinies on 10.

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Hugh Hancock April 10, 2011 at 11:59 am

Doone – I agree with you, this is robbing Peter to pay Paul. However, I’m fairly sure that’s the strategy Blizzard are employing – they do know WoW has a fixed lifespan and they are intending to shut it down or at least minimise all costs related to it at some point.
I don’t agree that it’s impossible to fix the problem. Competence isn’t the issue – there are plenty of competent players out there. Human relations are. And as I’ve mentioned above, there are plenty of successful examples of fixing an abusive community out there – if Blizzard chose to take that path.

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Gazimoff April 10, 2011 at 4:19 pm

This whole thing is, simply put, a bad solution to a hastily contrived idea. They’re already trying to dissuade people from using it by loading up incentives for people to run dungeons as a guild.

As long as LFD remains in popular use it’s going to have a drag on player experiences. Blizzard need to look at putting some proper fixes in, as otherwise it’s just going to continue to be a problem. If they don’t fix it for WoW they’ll need to have it sorted for Titan, so why not put the effort in doing things right beforehand?

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tubby April 12, 2011 at 1:59 am

Doone- The Celestial Steed, flying lion or any other store items are simply straw men in this argument. You’re blaming one situation you don’t like (microtransactions) for an unrelated situation you also dislike (LFD’s bottomless cauldron of pain and suffering).  By extension any and all cosmetic items in game are time not spent on fixing issues you see as problems.  Is fixing LFD further delayed by the addition of Firehawks?
If by any chance adding a mount to the game pushes back solutions to game related issues then Blizzard is suffering from serious internal problems.

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Coldbear April 12, 2011 at 2:47 am

LFD = 4chan

To hell with that.

I’d rather have a reputation on my server and play with people who have an incentive to play nice, because they know I’m on their server and I’m good and I’ll be there next week, too. And next year.

If you want that community feel back on your old release-server, then skip LFD and head straight to the old whispers and friends list and trade chat.

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JimmyB April 12, 2011 at 3:39 am

You said it yourself.
“Blizzard don’t get paid more money for happier players – just for more players.”
Between the costs of making a moderation system for a few million players that works and the cost of canceled or banned accounts, you can bet that they’ll keep barking up the bribery tree or possibly further implementation of RealID (remember that?).

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Hugh Hancock April 12, 2011 at 11:13 am

Coldbear – Good call. At the moment, it’s very difficult to get a group from a city, but as people get increasingly hacked off with LFD, it’ll probably get easier.
Jimmy – Sadly so. Many people seem to think the rudeness in LFD is impossible to solve. As various examples prove, it isn’t impossible – but it wouldn’t seem to fit with Blizzard’s current biz strategy.
 

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Magefest April 12, 2011 at 3:14 pm

The LFG tool was a technical triumph, it has just been destroyed by human nature. I know that’s been said before many times, but I am not sure if Blizzard is going to get the message in time.

As the problem is a social one, they need a social solution – like reverting to single server queues. The anonymity of the LFG encourages appalling behaviour due to its complete lack of consequences. I like where you were going with the idea of extra moderators, but I think it’s better to let the community police itself again.

Add an option button for me so that I can select to form a pug with people from my own server only and I would start tanking again. Make player reputation actually mean something again. Make it so that there is a chance I could actually be grouped with the same player again.

Put the social aspect back in the game, as that is what made wow so great for me in the first place…

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Kaylain April 12, 2011 at 4:35 pm

Why not make LFD more “realistic”, namely you can’t rage quit a team but all team members have to slope out of the instance, and be alive, in order to quit, the walk of shame as a team beaten by the dungeon.

Also, if team members abuse you or question your ability you should be able to slap them into line. It’s all tongue in cheek I know.

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