Author Archives: Cynwise

About Cynwise

Warlock from Northshire. I write about the battlegrounds of Azeroth, warlockery, auction house tomfoolery, and assorted other Warcraft topics on my various blogs. I love the smell of seaforium in the morning.

On Class Distribution in Patch 5.2

Screen Shot 2013-02-19 at 12.21.24 AM

I publish any graph with a great deal of trepidation; there are caveats and collection methodology and a lot of footnotes which go into serious data analysis which seem to always get lost in a single graph presented without context. But the context is often vital to avoid misinterpretation.

Patch 5.2 is coming soon, and I’ve returned to the data collection I started while writing The Decline and Fall of Warlocks in Cataclysm to see how things look for Warlocks. One important thing I learned last year was that most Warcraft population sites are focused on current, not historical, data. This requires ‘snapshotting’ data at critical points to allow for trend analysis. This is the third snapshot I’ve taken so far. Furthermore, each site has quirks and variations which make it impossible to reconcile them exactly. We can use them to talk about general trends – as long as we do so skeptically.

Instead of continuing to update the file used in Decline and Fall, I’ve created a new spreadsheet for this discussion. You can follow along in the Google Doc if you like.

I’m calling this snapshot the 5.2 patch data even though we’re not officially in 5.2 yet. There won’t be any massive shifts in population in the next week or three.

CLASS POPULARITY AT ENDGAME

Screen Shot 2013-02-19 at 12.22.04 AM

I’ve assembled the data from 5 time periods in a summary format to see very general trends with class movement in Mists of Pandaria, with Wrath (patch 3.3.5) and Cataclysm (4.3.3) data thrown in for comparison. This has some advantages for general population trending but is also problematic in other ways, which I’ll discuss later.

This chart, and the accompanying graph at the top of this post, are the relative population component of endgame characters for a given time period. This means that the first 3 columns represent level 85s, while the last two are level 90 characters only.

When I first made this type of chart last year it compared apples to apples – namely, end of expansion population figures. Players had had time to level alts and have multiple toons at endgame, so the data represented mains and alts alike. The Mists snapshots are critically different in that they are at the beginning and middle of an expansion, when leveling time is limited and content is fresh and demanding.

Understanding this difference in data type is critical to avoid making hasty judgements based on these numbers. There’s a pretty big disconnect between the first two and last two columns because of this end-of-expac effect.

  • Wrath and Cataclysm numbers are end of expansion numbers and represent mains and alts alike.
  • Mists Pre-release represents level 85 characters before Monks or Pandaren were introduced, in patch 5.0.4. This is the final snapshot of Cataclysm, and could be considered roughly equivalent to the previous two.
  • Mists Patch 5.1.0a gives us our first level 90 data. This specific data isn’t 85-90 data – it’s level 90 data. This snapshot shows us who leveled to 90 during the first few weeks, and is probably the best data point we’ll have for divining which classes players considered to be their mains, even if they switch later on.
  • Mists Patch 5.2 is another level 90 data point, this time with additional alts and slower levelers joining the endgame. Having 3-5 level 90 characters is not uncommon in this snapshot, so now we’re seeing who else people play.

There’s an additional complication in that Monks were introduced between 5.0.4 and 5.1.0a, shifting the average popularity from 10% to 9.091%. This ~1% drop can be adjusted for with indexing popularity values, but it’s not really worth it at this stage in the expansion. It’s not worth it for two reasons: because the 5.1.0a figures represent the actual popularity of main choices, so indexing isn’t appropriate yet, and because the effort to level a Monk to 90 is still substantially higher than leveling any other class from 85 to 90. Over time this will even out (and even skew towards the Monk class as their leveling bonuses come into play), but for now the imbalance should stand.

A quick look at the data shows that since Cataclysm:

  • Warlocks got a little more popular.
  • Warriors got a lot more popular.
  • Mages and Rogues were common alts at the end of Cataclysm, but not mains, or they main switched.
  • Paladins seem to be mains but not first-tier alts, as evidenced by the relative slide in standings since 5.1. Druids (and possibly Warriors) seem to have the same issue.
  • Hunters, Warlocks, and Monks seem to be gaining popularity as alts heading into 5.2.

The drop in Rogue popularity seems to be that we’re seeing the core of the class emerge – the die hard Rogue mains who will stick with it no matter what. The Legendary daggers offered to Rogues at the end of Cataclysm artificially inflated their numbers, but we could see other players level those Rogues to 90 by the end of the expac. I feel comfortable saying this because the 85 and lower data doesn’t show a drop at all.

MORE GRANULAR DATA

Screen Shot 2013-02-19 at 12.29.14 AM

The above data is from realmpop. I like realmpop a lot because it allows me to go through and drill down into the data, so that if I wanted to find out how many female goblin death knights are still stuck in the starter zone I could do it. The drawback is that the results are graphical and split by region, so I have to manually copy the values and add up populations between the US and EU. The sample size is large enough that I feel comfortable using relative values like popularity, but I wouldn’t want to use them for absolute values like server population.

If you unhide the columns on the second tab of the spreadsheet you can see the raw data from each snapshot.

The reason I think Rogues aren’t in any new state of crisis is because of the data above. When you look at the class across all levels, they’re pretty solid (and don’t show any decline.) But as soon as you get past level 85, the numbers fall off precipitously. People haven’t wanted to level them – yet. Perhaps they leveled one so their guild could get the legendary daggers in Dragon Soul. Perhaps they saw how they were performing in PvP and switched (more on that later.) But they’re there – just not at the endgame.

There’s a different set of problems there, of course. Why is there this drop off? Why do people not want to level Rogues to 90 but do want to level Paladins or Shamans or Warriors instead? There are problems here, but they’re not as simple as the problems affecting Warlocks in Cata.

I’ll leave that up to the Rogue bloggers to discuss, but I expect Blade Flurry has something to do with it. My own Rogue has been stuck at level 67 forever.

PVE AND PVE SPEC BREAKDOWNS

Screen Shot 2013-02-18 at 11.51.51 PM

One of the other data sites I’ve come to rely upon has been World of Wargraphs; like realmpop, it pulls data directly from Blizzard’s API (not through in-game addons, like Warcraft Realms), but it presents the data in very different and interesting ways. The PvE/PvP breakdowns, in particular, are very helpful in determining what specs are over- or under-represented in high end play.

The next four tabs on the spreadsheet are dedicated to snapshotting the heroic raiding and 2200+ PvP class and spec breakdown. Some of the lists are rather long, so I’ll provide direct links here:

Screen Shot 2013-02-18 at 11.54.41 PM

A few things to note.

  • Guardian Druids are not present in the data as a separate spec.
  • Arms Warriors are an amazing 11.4% of all 2200+ characters surveyed. I think we found our missing Rogues.
  • There are some specs which are struggling in both environments. Unholy DKs, Demonology Warlocks, Holy Priests, Marksmanship Hunters, even Fire Mages could use a look.
  • Hunters, in general, seem to be having problems at endgame. It could be a number of reasons –  perhaps it’s that they’re easy to get to 90, but hard to master in raids and PvP alike. Perhaps they’re too complicated to play well at 90. Or perhaps it’s that they are favored alts for dailies? I honestly don’t know.
  • A few specs are doing well in both environments. Holy Paladins, Shadow Priests.

Really, the biggest story from this data is how overwhelmingly popular Warriors have become for ranked level 90 PvP, and how scarce Rogues have become in that same activity. I think these trends are absolutely related.

ON WARLOCK POPULATION NUMBERS

Overall, the changes to the Warlock class in Mists seem to have had a positive effect on relative popularity. Players are rolling Warlocks and leveling them to endgame. This is a massive improvement!

Affliction and Destruction are reasonably represented in PvE and PvP. Demonology seems to be less common in high level play, but one of the current Arena world champions won playing Demo, so I don’t know what to really say to that yet. Perhaps it’s just that it’s really tricky to master? Don’t know.

Patch 5.2 presents something we haven’t seen in a while – Warlock-only quests. There’s a lot of interest around the green fire quests which will no doubt prompt people to try leveling one to 90 to give them a try. This kind of attention can be good if the class fundamentals are sound, which I think they are again. But it’s going to skew numbers in the future.

We need to collectively remember that when looking at the class later on.

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Filed under Cynwise's Warcraft Manual

Simple Destruction Warlock Weak Auras

Cynwise - Weak Aura Configuration - Feb 2013

Feb 2013 UI with Weak Aura Configuration – click to embiggen!

Possibly the biggest change I made when warlocks were revamped in Mists of Pandaria was to throw out my keybinds. That one decision to jettison what I knew about the class and start over allowed me to dramatically change my UI, because it had been built up to support a very specific keybind structure. It allowed me to move away from the Cast Keyboard / Move Mouse style I’d gotten trained into (I now use a more traditional ESDF layout with the Naga) and simplify things considerably. It also made me look at what the default UI could and couldn’t do, and that in turn led me to try out Weak Auras, a really powerful addon and the replacement for Power Auras.

Auras are already part of the default UI – different classes will have event procs display as a graphic that shows up on the screen to let the player know that an ability is usable, or the mana cost is free, or some benefit is available. Weak Auras allows you to customize auras beyond the default. It’s a little tricky to set up at first, but if you take your time and are clear about your requirements then it’s no harder than Need to Know.

My own setup is relatively simple in concept – use a series of spinning concentric circles to alert me to certain powerful spells becoming available. I didn’t want to track every buff or action, but I did want to give myself some kind of visual prompt to take immediate action. Shadowburn, for instance, is an extremely powerful execute spell that Destro locks should use whenever it’s available, which is when the target is below 20% health and you have a Burning Ember to spend. The problem with the default UI is that the button doesn’t light up when you can cast it (unlike Execute or other similar spells) – it just becomes quietly castable. Adding an Aura to let me know that it’s up allows me to cast it more often.

The big circles in my UI shot above are for my target, while the smaller ones above my character’s head are for my focus target. They circle around.

  • The big purple circles are Shadowburn. I wanted something really big and visible since effectively using Shadowburn in PvP allows you to get your opponents down much much faster. Most people don’t get up from a Shadowburn.
  • Moving in, the yellow circle is Conflagrate. In PvE you might cast Conflag on CD, but I do like to save it for the snare effect in PvP. I found that I wouldn’t always look and see if Conflag was up before trying to cast it (instead of Fel Flame), so this aura provides a reliable way for me to know which instant to spam.
  • The inner orange circle is Immolate. This aura just tells me if Immolate is on the target or not. Immolate is not a must-have DoT anymore, but this is a convenient way for me to know if I am applying pressure at a moment’s glance or not. If I were to trim anything, it would be this one.
  • The upper purple circle is Shadowburn again, but on my focus. Visual consistency is important, but so is knowing if my focus target is able to be shadowburned or not.
  • The evil looking eyes are letting me know that Havoc is available to cast on my focus. I use a simple macro which sends Havoc to my focus if one is selected, or to my target if I have no focus. This aura helps me know that I’m all set and ready to wreak havoc.

This provides a relatively simple alerting system for Destruction Warlocks that covers my bases. If I were playing more PvE, I might add in a Backdraft Proc tracker to let me know that I should cast Incinerate instead of Chaos Bolt. I’m also experimenting with a Dark Bargain/Unending Resolve series of auras to let me know to when DB is about to fall off so I can cast Unending Resolve to lessen incoming damage, but I’m not sure that I really want that one right now. There are also some buff reminders I should put up (make sure Dark Intent is on, remind when pet is dead and no corresponding buff available, etc.) but that’s a project for another day.

One of the nice elements of Weak Auras is that it allows you to export settings to share with others, which I’ve done below. These strings – and they’re messy and long – can be copy and pasted into Weak Auras so you can get the exact aura someone uses, either to use out of the box or customize to your desired effect. I’ve included these strings below.

Enjoy!

Shadowburn Target

d0dReaGAjH6LsHAxiu2MKKzIqAUivnBj(nQ6MsHCBP03eXPfStQYEj7Mk7xsq)usi)vughs58uvzOivAWuvvgUuDqkQxtr6yiQJtvv1cPQSueKflfTCv9qeupfSmH0ZvzIsIAQOYKfvth6IscCvQQsxw56uAJiv8yHAZskBxs13Lc(QKitJIyEiu9zkCyugnsgVKuNKQQ4wiqxtKUhc4ziYWeIZHqSilobTcYfKlobX8f(xCYJSOdTQsjrKK0KutsttJKqw1iykj5fv0XeArirJerQks00O0sJst1iyAQ8ij6qlkPiKJKKMAcjsKjsvPQgbtjjuG1HFWWyV4eyVLD9vkES2jFcSUakazVXqbxFLIhRDYJCcTKeHc(ze4DC(1NaCvJ2FcAwMlVr85tG5kxzb5HRITUymuFQPaCvJ2Fc8hhUVglE0BopN3D0xPXm1S9zh90LVH9MTp7A0Ydm6nBF2rVz7ZIstalppGbEhRKHFWWy)jo5rwCcWpyySxCcq)6tWHm0EcS3YOgRGuQPa7TmK9gdj08FB4xU8j4Snx95qWwRwOAbze2mWLbCMjeNG((45qQXkiLGOreS6ZHcmhJbExf6F(7XAwMGZ2C1NdP7VAHQfa0TcikrfyDbuaYEJHcS3YU(kfpw7Kpbw3QphkGzrEb2BzwxaLpbuJvqQm((EgY)ciobeyVL13hphsnwbPKpb99XZHuJvqQm((EgY)ciobeC9vkES2jpYj0ssekW6WpyySxCcU(kfpw7Kh5eAjjcSUakazVXqHcfkiKlaOy58n00(obmxOLHbEN4eCi7rXjO)7gk4O(GZuHcAzbN4eG(1NG(VBOG(VBOGNhz4iCHp20gc3ekOwWfokXjO)7gk4O(GZuHcfGFWWyV4eKBFgg4DcQsa6xFcoKH2tqS9q(2m0V(eCidTNGRVsXJ1o5roHwsIG((45qQXkiLGOreyDbuaYEJHcSUvFouagAxUa7TSRVsXJ1o5tG9wM1fq5tqm1InvWQphkWElRVpEoKAScsjFc67JNdPgRGuz899mK)fqCciuqdHCKsEKstf4STCFWWy)jVOcOwWGcLhPKubfEwU4eyVLfxy3jFcE(YeNGwBbdItOqb2BzxFXYNGRVyXj4coJYKhjHcIlS7eNGl4mktqLmtiIwreUXcfkuWjGmXmHyjeJMG6YJSjrIiuc

Conflagrate Target

da00gaqlrsTlG0WqvoMuSmqXZiuMgHCnH02aQ(gighQQoNij3JqvDquXcbvpeOmrrv5IsvSruvgjOKoPuv9srvvZui6MIQ0ov4NsvzOaHJceXsfcpfzQaUQOk2kqK(kquZvQ0EP(RqnyqPomklgKESuAYIYLvTzf5ZemAPItl41IeZws3gvA3e9BjgUiooOelxPNd10jDDiBxr9DcvgVOY5fPwpHQmFrvL9lvPDJbmfm1Vu)oXAF3(BlsCxk51AmFH9X8f2dLvRMWMAaveOqaLFtCnLzkZaMq4VXP9GNje(BCop4zcj1nii81aMWjVwhmU3JgiPcCySAk7yMIwME4S2ue2csMzOMWmUh45u0Ed3u2XmfTm98v2lSfKmZqnPBqq4RbmPPtUjSYue2eo516GX9E0ajvGdJPI4K9jRPnCtF(s1eNwnuK9c78GzqR3esgutkBfUAcHFSYwHRrCybf2Nz4Mq4hJtEToyCVHBkiN)IVHBcHFmsgud3es(5lvtmKwmjzCp2aE0yQFUClvMERMYou00eq6KBcw5erE5lprA10urQM4BdIxVWgKGyzltz9cBaatDEqOJA(ebPHNiiqebUiW5XlkeW9uQfjYuTWYmGje(XTvggB4M2s9gWexuvdgWQvti8JXjV1WnHWpUTWfktnCt4K3Aat4GuOEpeZQP2kdJnGjCqkuVjqMter2hy5VvRMGYAtrylizgWZPO9MaEofTh3LsETYPvdZmnuK9n)TYsJ72tBnKGFmHKMMk7f2csMb8CkAVjGNtr7XDPKxRCA1WmtdfzFZFRS04U90wdj4htiPP9cHIeiDYnPpNI2BcA9YS8wYUjo5lFMyYaxMgksdyIllinGjnDYnLShF1uYE8vtBrz6bRGK6xWQL2uexaFRwn1ULK40EWdurnM0Ntr7n1Vu)oXAFxozzfjUliFwkCqld3fefX9LdAz48(SaRlh0YWD5Gwgm8BsI4cSbbHVypeZewdTPKoFOLPHI0qn1wQL1aE0y(4h8OILkirHevu0Or5bPXtPoQyEiMh8SAQTWnzpgBOMczMaRiNQmHLP3eRM0H5rJjXfY0oMpr8dtu(fdc48A4Vb8Oqa3tPwKittfPsbX7E0aJjwwwqdfjRgRBqq4l2aE0yat6gee(AatA6KBcRmfHnHKF(s1edPfti8JdY5V4B4M(8LQjoTAOi7f25bZGwVjmc6NVubX(Pqotei6jYinHWpgN8ADW4Ed3ec)yLTcxJ4WckSpZWnHrq)8LkHMMc5mfdghciMa4ebGje(XizqnCtizqnLuzP)AcN8ADW4EpAGWpeiwnHK6gee(Aat4KxRdg37rde(HaXQvpGXaM0nii81aM00j3ewzkcBcHFCNZQAhd3egb9ZxQeAAkKZumyCiGycGteaM(8LQjy9SQ2Xegb9ZxQGy)uiNjce9ezKM6Cwv7yINjK8ZxQMyiTycHFmsgud3ec)ywnmFd3esgutkBfUAQZzvTtCj5ltlRPEZpX3QjKu3GGWxdycjdQjLTcxTA1QPGC(l(gQPPYEHTGKzGvQL1aE04rJhW4rJhI5rJhI8OXQPYgUuzAOinbs7jcG(bJtKMA3ssCop4bQOgtqzTPiSfKmdSsTSgWJgp4bAupGXdEGg1dX8GhOr9qKh8anQvtqzTPiSfKmRVPj8vpGXQPzpAeXJNvBa

Immolate Target

d8JagaqBvy9sr1lfs0UucBteACqIzcjnxrPzlvZxkkDtHKESq9nvuDEHyNqSxQDtY(vr5NsKgMi1VfCAsnuPidwivdxkDqIYrLIIJPuoNkcluuSujklwPA5kEOs0tbltK8CctuiLPkPjlQMoQlkr1vvrYZuP66qTrrWwLiYMvsBhsnnvsFvfrFMiFxIWifs41QugTiA8evNuL4wQi11Kc3tIOUmYHv1FLWEZvdVRgUCCe6ptgUOyAw)yk7L4GsKfAPEVib9qfxooc9N1bLzdcdBlUU48fOy4WqUHCxnGf0ueXiPnGf0ui3iPneh6HXvJKYjCnXuNNk15O0i117nAKikE90nUBK7oHephLnuoXwQ03BK4jsefu86PBKOzdRHHKMawLVm0dJRgzZiBgjLr2mYDJSzKRgzZSHCs8mEEMY8X3KMawL7DdI)GQKCgpKZyiNepJNNPecdjnbSk37gEL(4zDq5QHJxRC1ahPLm0oKGydTdji2We4NPLbSIPzzpeFReAbz2SbE0ss04QHqjuLQ6rCgdyLMnW)irSbTcnncYzmO(ds4Qr2mC54i0FMmBiN2XRR1iTKHOqwzrnHtHQzdRbfBiHr38ZIEZG)855)SOxRg6Hp3vdybve3FHWzmmHo5QHdCN1UA2SbSGkeTuSZyalOI4WX(ZoJbrlf7QbHwj1jJC3SH4(leUAqOvsDYWjLvgQLUmknB2WAqXGU5Kr2szynmK0eWQ8kjNXdzOsYz8qISql17YIzn6N1bvPOPP)rezlpURBfubGvggsshu1iTKbMKZ4HmS3jvEud5KbzrlAgINqBreJKEX1ndcwhFls0WZZ6GY7g2)4BstaRYxg6HXvJSzK0lAyKugj9Igg5UrsVOHrUAK0lAy2atYz8qgUOyAw)ykRS88GsK9K0FtgEEr2McLGgz45frLY1Fwz45fzLHNpfkg0k00iiVBy)JVjnbSkVsYz8qgQKCgpKil0s9USywJ(zDqvkAA6Fer2YJ76wbvayLbDUHlhhH(ZKH4Wr7qcH3n855AwhuFVGhTKencxnYMRg4rljrJRg4iTKbb)mwyalOIKbbR7AoI3niW7eAsXaEDvl3qXszqTaQYkRAGqtk2WPuA(SOVm5pFmtJwW6yHbbENqtkUPHw1YnanvoQOAaRi0KIn8yoyizqW6UMJyizqW6ozalOcSsZoJbSGkEM)4B)ENCgdyLMnW)irSzdyfpAjjAC1awPzd8pseB2Srs5QbE0ss04QboslzqWpJfgWcQij9DoPZyqG3j0KIb86QwUHILYGAbuLvw1aHMuSHOG(oN0GaVtOjf30qRA5gGMkhvunKK(oN0qAdjPVZjlcT08CymCwZwYgWcQaR0SZyaRi0KIn8yoyaR0Sb(hjInBaR4rljrJRgWknBG)rIyZMnB47TjFJSzqHpQJwsIgHrUBimAsXpRdkdLu5LvVSugQgINqBHCJKEX1nd7F8nPjGv5LUUki2iPmBaTr2UMoTzBa

Havoc Focus

d8ZWeaqyOwpqQxcK0UKGETe14GOMPOsZLez2k52GYnbsSnsQ(gOIttQDcyVODtv7huPFkjnmH43cMgjzOqGbdQQHdPdcehvOIoMu54cvQfsclfcTyH0YPYdHipv1Jb55kMOqvnvrMSs10jUOOIRcQYZev11LYgLaNuISzj12vkFuOcFvOk9zr57KugjjQLjugTeA8sIljuj3sOkUMOkNxQ6Yuohe0FbQzht8yM4vgVfG4lbKYbXcabPCuQesvbUs4O6Lw6bRg2TcqLbhf7TqDr8waIc)W3vOQcHtHiZdJFNFNj(kvRRhtiqKcJ1LFErIGq4OEEQhlpEO2ibyjRIap0DSy8n0DSy8AOGNk4fNolZCmXhuZx1V6Pc(Mxl81bO2WR9BMBmQG3JHzdteOJxz8waIc)UfTvxN6rnELbbrqPa4Llf(6Gx4lWPbnCHFC2W7oSGHl8tj(IMoROqa1vXVc4DM4BJbgAHNHk4DHLXepS2s0mrHcFBmWdQbrf8TXadfGfflubp0cpdt8J2NTm(4feeZTksGkf(b1GyIF0(SLrG8PqHVo4LRbTrGUy876bDH7VGHkp8X1W7SmDWN6rnEXQinNXpIgQCF8BoSOdEgLhVVRfDWJxGfNolZCdteOJjEXPZYmht8spQXpcwAdFBmWc2LzcIwC30oBNk4TnZl8Gaj6GhUWhEdo6Y4NwuBZ8ccCwTUc)rqo5MlFBmWdQTwayygvW382M5fECtc8nVw4rx4EZX3gdCZRfQGFArTnZlVvxRRWdgjqEc8tGGyIFqT1cadZiaYrIPkcf(MxC6SmZXe)GARfagMraKJetvekuOWlwfP5m(KvrAoBu6O2AbcKO3WIo4RUzUfUFusH5gZvMFemu5bPGxWApmZl8LaEP4NdpOdbyeicpUjbQGVVAD9yclq98HtxSUyQuhzeQsfYiezwhpQYJxVZRmElaXdfwbhteqfb6OWJHeDWpmXpc2jmXVhaNTcQXO8zRGAGXqIo45NIb1OqHx73m3ymkVVbl50zzMBiqmESxddl6GNj(rWoHjEPh14rD2ycpQZgt4NIoTVmfEyyTNjEPh14rD2ycpQZgt4rBRXOWxR96Pit8spQXJ6SXeEuNnMWpfDAFzku431d6c3xck45l5fZvJHmLkbf8JsfXBbi(rWqLhee0EHxr1uQkOGyP4q5eVyveKcRGJjc0rGoceJaDeiFc0raveOJcf(nc0PksekKa

Shadowburn Focus

d0Z1faGAjvPxkkj7sjY2efZuc1CfLA2k8BeUPIuDBuLVjrhwWofv7LA3KSFsL8tsL6VI04iW5fQgQeYGfLy4k1bfsNMOJrqhxusTqHYsvcTyfXYr6HsQ8uWJjLNl1eLuvtfrtwrnDOlQiPRQiXZqLUokBuc6ZIyZsY2fIVRe1xvKY0ivnpsfggQQLPKgnHgpQOtkPkULsW1KuUhPIETe4YQohQWwOjnWZWSHztAyw21ltPHYi3tmWuivMKCQjnW6N27pg5bE3XmWus0qfHgRn07pg5bE35clfuwA0a9jscfz89nGNtKrVHjJRMNoX8neT(13qCDxv1hDHz4lG)Qa9Rz4yvyTs9RUAb91mWPURQ6JoN)s6lfKHBzgoQXv4And45ez0BOEu4PvbTND05zcvN90EOGOmAOZUiILpnkJg6P)zzi7OmAOZokJgwfyiOK8cOKqzsdngOOjnGX33WM((OHn99rdTivQkWObEbPYKgW47BytFF0WM((ObkbgWx3GqRGLL9nAOsQKTOjnGX33WM((OHn99rdTivQkWOrdH5zjkjuHrksLjjN2M05cnPbKktso1KgW47BOXaYAdS(PIpmqrpXqZM8ixHaRQsYPH06IcKPaz0fjnW6NIbAYXfFwZK0p7yg2NQDfk(WafnSY3WJCfAiQgkju6kltPdtg3qZM8ixHfrFLKtdqrtT4InWus0agOjhnW6N27pg5bE3XmWupYvOHadjmW6NYus0Xmi(Waftj2NgqcQbDOtdS(P7t1UcfFyGIoMH9PAxHIpmqXuI9PbKGAqh60qV)yKh4DNlSuqzPrdmfsLjjNAsd9(JrEG3DUWsbLLgykjAad0KJgn68vtAaPYKKtnPbm((gAmGS2aRFQirJYHeJ7ygA2Kh5keyvvsonKwxuGmfiJUiPHh5k0WuusuxzPoXanOHNkBuQ1gA2Kh5kSi6RKCAakAQfxSbMsIgQi0yTbM6rUcneyiHbw)uMsIoMbrIgLdjg3GirJYXnAGPqQmj5utAGPKOHkcnwB0OrdivMKCQjnmZObusOmKXqV)yKh4DNlSuqzPbm((gAmGS2at9ixHgqjVpByFQ2vO4ddu0WkFdmLenurOXAdASgj4LIX33qJbK1gy9t79hJ8aV7yg0eVwbgEKRqdS(P7t1UcfFyGIoMH9PAxHIpmqXuI9PbKGAqh60aRFktjrhZOb5SbqmmtS8egvPRSuiHgRnOy8iPYKKtBNZ1WYYzu05R81ByqeMnPbw)uTrOBhZaLyCtAGhBGstA0Obw)0EFnhZqVVMjn0svY4oNRrdAJq3M0qlvjJByArxSyDxxwz0ObnIbb1KoxOlSua)mRC5GBn9c5lqqg(UAHACD(QluFTvHRz4lG)k3sok5y1vlulJZ56cfWTuixoYWrn965NHlx9UAHACnA0qBq4s6xQCjbgI4CH65Z3On

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On Why I’m Not Level 90

Cynwise in the Vale of Eternal Blossoms

I like Mists of Pandaria. This expansion has been the combination of Warcraft’s Oriental Adventures and Lone Wolf and Cub that I’d hoped it would be, and I’m quite happy to be playing it. It’s rich, immersive, gorgeous, with genuinely fun things to find and do. On top of it all, the class of my main character has been dramatically improved from Cataclysm.

Yet after three months I have no level 90 characters and my main is XP-locked at level 85. I’m not enjoying Pandaria in the traditional sense of leveling through zones and then doing endgame content. I feel no rush to get my characters to level 90 yet.

“Slow down,” the Pandaren NPCs tell me all the time. “There is no hurry.”

It’s good advice.

Cynwise - MSV Pool

THE PROBLEM OF ENDGAME PVP GEARING

The dark truth about Warcraft PvP is that it is a game of gear as well as skill. Nearly all of the systems for PvP gear are designed to keep you playing simply to stay at the same relative level – you first start with crafted gear to grind out Honor Points to purchase moderately decent gear, which then allows you to compete for Conquest Points for better gear. If you’re on a good RBG or Arena team, you get more Conquest Points and get better gear then your opponents over the course of a season. Eventually opponents catch up, but there’s always a gear gap that favors characters which get an early lead. The gap is even worse if you start late.

The PvP changes in 5.2 are cleverly designed to help reduce this gear gap and make it easier for late starters to catch up. The system still favors those who push early and hard for great ratings, but the imbalance is definitely reduced later on. The incentives remain to get an early start, but the obstacles presented by a late start are reduced. That’s good for overall competitiveness over the course of a season – but nothing is really different about the gear treadmill.

Hamlet (from Elitist Jerks, not Shakespeare) made an offhand comment about how PvE isn’t really a gear treadmill because you get to consume content while doing it. You see new things while leveling up to endgame, doing dailies, running dungeons, raiding each tier, overcoming challenges at a difficulty they’re tuned at. I think his point highlights the problem with PvP gearing by providing contrast. I’ve argued before that PvP has very high replay value due to the changing nature of your opposition, while PvE loses replay value quickly due to the challenge becoming easier. The flip side of this is that PvE provides new, fresh content as a reward for playing, while PvP does not. You get to see new stuff and learn new fights while gearing up for PvE! You get to run Strand of the Ancients and Isle of Conquest again and again while gearing up for PvP.

Gearing up for endgame PvE is more like running through the countryside than a treadmill. You get a new countryside every expansion, which is pretty neat. Gearing up for endgame PvP is running through your neighborhood where you might not know the weather but you sure know the route.

This is the fundamental problem I have with endgame PvP, and why I locked my XP at 85 on my main to avoid it. Not only don’t I have time in my schedule to do Arenas with friends anymore, I don’t want to have to keep working to stay on top. I want to run Battlegrounds because I enjoy them, not because I feel obligated to.

I don’t know whether to characterize this as a flaw with the PvP system or just a personal incompatibility. One of the lessons I took away from Cataclysm was that you need to make decisions on an individual basis, and that those decisions might or might not be reflected in general population trends.

I can say, however, that I enjoy playing PvP more than I enjoy constantly gearing up, and that my dislike of the PvP gear treadmill outweighs my desire to see all of Mists of Pandaria.

This feels like a problem to me, but the plural of anecdote is not data.

Cynwise - Level 85 PvE Twink Stats - self buffed

THE PROBLEM OF COMBAT RATING DECAY

One of the quirks of World of Warcraft which my poor pen-and-paper RPG and LARP brain has trouble getting around is the idea of combat rating decay. Starting at level 10, the ratings which impact how effective your character is go down as you advance in level. This ratings decay encourages players to get increasingly better gear to make up for the loss of power. The numbers get bigger, but you’re not necessarily getting any more powerful for that level. I get the math behind it, I get the psychology behind it, but I don’t get why I should think it’s a good thing.

The FUDGE system greatly shaped my game design principles with the idea that all characters can (and should) be described in relative terms. The terms themselves don’t have to be fuzzy, but they should always be described in terms relative to their environment. Heroic raiders and gladiators are Superbly powerful, possibly Legendary. This kind of fuzzy system is actually quite compatible with more absolute systems like d20, where a +1 weapon is always a +1 weapon no matter what.

But Warcraft turns that on its head. You progress up in power through an expansion – first through levels, then through gear – until you reach a pinnacle. Once at that pinnacle you can do great, awesome things – until the next expansion comes along. Once you start leveling, the numbers get bigger but the ratings decay until you’re less powerful than when you started.

Twinking finds the sweet spots in these leveling curves and pushes the numbers to their limits.

I find it hard to convince myself that leveling Cynwise is a good idea. At first, I thought I would just finish up Battlemaster and then unlock – but now I’m not so sure. She is far more relatively potent than she could be at level 90, and the level 90 content that is available to her provides some solid challenges moving about the world. If I pull a level 90 rare, I really have to work to bring it down. It’s a lot of fun!

I bring this up because I think it’s intimately linked to my dislike of endgame PvP gearing. Taking a Superb Warlock and making her Fair – or even Mediocre or Poor, only to bring her back up to Superb over the course of two years – doesn’t feel right to me.

There’s no reason I can’t wait until the final patch of the expansion, level her to 90 then, and get the absolute best gear with one single grind.

I suspect that thoughts like these are why I’m not really a MMO’s target audience.

Cynwise - Vale of Eternal Blossoms - Contemplating Whisperpool

THE PROBLEM OF FREE WILL IN A SKINNER BOX

Hamlet – the Shakespearean one, now – wrestles with the charge laid upon him by his father’s ghost to avenge his murder. Hamlet chooses how to do it, causing tremendous collateral damage, but he was prodded on by that unyielding spirit. We are left wondering if the Prince of Denmark really had any choice in the matter or not, yet every step he took was his own.

Did he have to kill Claudius? Would death have freed him, or plunged him into unending guilt-wracked torment? He doesn’t know, and neither do we.

The question of free choice in games is not quite so weighty, but neither is it any better defined. For an expansion dominated by talk of those things players feel they have to do, I think it’s reasonable to step back and look at ourselves and our choices. To look back at myself, to look at why I made the choices I’ve made.

I locked my XP and postponed chasing after the treasures of Pandaria for other goals, like Battlemaster. I turned down the big brass ring that the game offered for a smaller one, one that mattered more to me. Most of my time spent in game is chasing after those old brass rings, the ones nobody wants but I find kinda shiny still. And then there’s the PvP, which I enjoy on many levels.

It’s been interesting watching the rest of my friends settle into their level 90 lives, questing through areas which I can’t, running dungeons and scenarios and dailies, killing 12 more Mogu, getting more fatty goatsteaks, raiding those shiny pretty raids I can see the outside of. I see glimpses of it but not the whole thing. Those glimpses intrigue but don’t compel.

There are days I feel like a fel-using Bartleby the Scrivener, telling Warcraft that I prefer not to level, thank you very kindly. Why should I trade this game of riotous battlegrounds and exploration of unseen content for one of dailies? Of finishing up achievements which I never had time for in the past for a world of repetition and toil?

And yet, before I think myself above anyone, I remind myself that I am still a rat in a Skinner Box, pushing the buttons for the rewards I want. I’ve chosen which buttons I push — but is that really a victory if I am still pushing the buttons?

Perhaps I am not as much like Bartleby as I would like to believe I am.

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Battlemaster

Cynwise - Shrine - Battlemaster Close Crop

My battleground diploma is done.

I locked at 85 to avoid the gear grind, focused on it for 6 months, and got it done.

I’ve enjoyed what I’ve seen of Mists of Pandaria, but I have no max level alts. I amuse myself hunting rares wearing the best gear possible. I take advantage of long BG queue times by going back to finish those old things I never did before.

I like how the Warlock class is playing in Mists; it’s so very different from Cataclysm. We are far removed from the class which inspired Decline. I really don’t have much to say about it aside from that it’s fun again.

Having a fun class again is a pretty big deal, come to think of it. Don’t take it for granted.

I don’t think I’ll unlock Cynwise anytime soon. I absolutely do not miss grinding gear to remain competitive in PvP. Having to work each and every week to keep up with my opponents isn’t for me anymore, and from the looks of things there’s going a lot of work ahead for endgame characters who want to PvP.

So.

I’d rather just play BGs and have fun with a video game.

cropped-cynwise-warsong-gulch-flag-room-persistent-ultimate-defender.png

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Start Here, at Cataclysm’s End

One of the great flaws of the weblog format is how older information, no matter how good it is, fades away under the deluge of new posts. As Mists of Pandaria launches next week, I thought it appropriate to take a look back over Cataclysm before everything gets buried.

This post has a secondary motive. I am going to take a bit of a vacation from Cynwise and recharge my mental batteries, so this blog will be on hiatus until 2013. Since this weblog is pretty big – I write a lot, okay – I thought putting a map for new visitors up at the very top of the front page was the best way for me to leave the store unattended for a while.

So let’s start here, at Cataclysm’s end.

THE ESSENTIALS

In 2012, I wrote a book called The Decline and Fall of Warlocks in Cataclysm. It didn’t start out as a book, but rather as a series of posts analyzing why warlock populations were falling. An unpopular class was growing less so: why?

The core thesis of Decline is that warlock populations declined because of Inelegant Complexity without Reward; that multiple factors lead to players either abandoning the class or the game entirely. This thesis was debated in comments, in forums, in emails, and even in Blizzard development team meetings. It was, and remains, a contested theory, but it’s one that I absolutely stand by. Decline framed the discussion around the future of warlocks at a critical time in their development in Mists, and I think the class dev team did a great job with fixing the problems of Cataclysm.

I would love to share more of the stories behind this, like getting emailed by Xelnath while at my kid’s soccer game and going, okay, this is only the second strangest email I’ve gotten from my blog, or arguing with my editor Narci over whether a tangent was worth exploring (it almost always is.) I’d love to debate more about if Demonology should be a tanking spec (yes) and the challenges that have to be overcome to make that happen (itemization, player resistance, tank balance, active vs. passive mitigation strategies) – but alas, there is no more time. Mists is here, time to move on.

I’ll have to share those stories over tacos or something at Blizzcon next year.

If Decline was the most important post I wrote in the past year, I think my best post was something totally different – On Snow Crash, Virtual Avatars, and Warcraft’s Social Network Appeal, which I wrote back in January. The “Snow Crash Post” (and its followup) was born out of a frenzied realization where I could see how Twitter and Facebook had irrevocably changed the MMO landscape, and that doing stuff with your friends is the whole thing now.

Ghostcrawler said “playing with your friends is the sleeper hit of Mists of Pandaria,” and I completely agree. So many changes have been made to Warcraft to enable this simple thing that I can’t help but add two more predictions to the Snow Crash list: cross-faction grouping will become a thing, and Blizzard will license the Battle.net API infrastructure.

We’ll see if I’m right.

This weblog started off as Cynwise’s Battlefield Manual and (mostly) focused on casual battlegrounds and Player versus Player (PvP) content. It was an area which I have really enjoyed writing about, but there are three contributions I’m most proud of:

Topological Battleground Maps – inspired by the London Tube map, I depicted the logical flow of the various battlegrounds instead of the terrain in maps. (Developed here, refined here and here, seen all over.) In many ways, this map style was essential to my future writing on battlegrounds – I needed a better way to explain what I was talking about than just marking up maps.

Resurrection Vectors – BGs are won and lost by controlling graveyards, but the why and how is hard to explain if you don’t have a way to describe the way troops move when their killed. Starting with Arathi Basin and Alterac Valley, my posts on Graveyard Control and Rez Vectors looked at a lot of the battleground maps before I stopped. If you want to know why you don’t take the South Graveyard in Strand or why graveyard camping works, you should read these posts.

Relentlessly Positive Attitude – More than maps and theory, what I hope my writing about PvP accomplished was to inspire people to do better. To try those things they thought they couldn’t do, to find fun in things that they thought were too hard. That’s why I kept writing for so long – I really enjoyed teaching people how to play, and I hope I inspired them to have fun. You’ll see this attitude in posts like my guide to The School of Hard Knocks (wow, is that old!) or How To Win Tol Barad - where I had to take my own advice, knuckle down and figure out how to win that damn thing. But you’ll also find it in my passionate defenses of Healers Have To Die, talking about disposable heroes and iterative twinks, and even the ever popular PvP gear guides.

PvP can be fun. Just don’t give up. You can do this. Keep on trying.

There are other PvP posts which I think are worth noting – The 20 v. 24 War looked at the impact of Stater Edition twinks on the 20-24 bracket, The Battle for Gilneas is a straightforward guide to the best battleground of Cataclysm are both standouts – but I think it’s also important to remember the things which didn’t go well in PvP, like the rating exploits which caused so many problems in S9-S11, the increasingly hard PvP reputation grind, the repeated attempts to make Rated Battlegrounds popular, or the S9-S10 gear transition fiasco.

Actually, that last post about the S9-S10 PvP gear transition is a good one to stop and reflect on for a bit.

THE PIGGIE AWARDS AND THE FIELD NOTES EXPERIMENT

While writing Decline, I repeatedly said that I didn’t quit playing my warlock because of the increased complexity without reward, but that is very much the reason I didn’t go back to her for over a year. The reason I quit playing her was twofold:

You could look Cataclysm as an arc in my weblog: starting with Blizzard Killed My Dog (I still love that title), to a nadir at On Priorities, Elephants, and Desire, and then up to the Decline and Fall of Warlocks in Cataclysm. This has been a story of someone losing his way and finding it again.

The way back was through an experiment I started right after the one-two punch of the elephant post/S9 transition, Cynwise’s Field Notes, an experimental weblog where I stopped writing about warlocks and PvP and instead wrote about … whatever the hell I wanted.

It was liberating. Instead of the long, researched, carefully considered posts that went up on the Battlefield Manual, I adopted what were to become my Five Rules for Cynwise’s Field Notes, where I stopped obsessing over every little detail and just hit publish. Post after post came out, some not very good, others that I think were quite groundbreaking or prescient for the time.

I was really honored to receive several nominations for the 2011 Piggies on MMO Melting Pot. I was even more blown away by not only receiving several honorable mentions, but also winning the 2011 Most Memorable Blog Post award for my CFN post, On the ForsakenThat post not only led to On Blogging Heroes (in response to the Piggie award), it inspired several entries in the Blizzard Global Writing contest, including one of the 2011 Finalists, Daughter of Lordaeron. This, in turn, led to me picking the thread back up again in On Silverpine Forest, which lands me right in the middle of the Forsaken storyline and embracing the cause of the Dark Queen.

Will there be an On Hillsbrad Foothills? I hope so! Baby Cynwise is still waiting… though she’s like level 29 from leveling gathering professions. >.>

During this time the PvP Columnist position at WoW Insider opened up. I declined with several regrets, as I think the staff there is great and it would have been a great experience. But in retrospect it was the right decision, not only for me, but for WI. (Oliva Grace is fantastic in the role, much better than I would have been, and has become a great contributor to their site. I wish her, and the entire WI staff, well heading into Mists.)

There are a lot of standouts from the CFN days; take a look through the CFN tag on this site, or visit the original site on Posterous if it’s still available. (I moved the posts back to this site because I had, frankly, too many sites. This decision seemed really wise when Posterous’s future came in doubt after the company was acquired by Twitter.) Some of them, like On Digital Detritus and the Merit Badge post, are still really applicable as we head into Mists.

I’m not going to lie, I kinda miss that website now.

TAKING A BREAK

I don’t really know what will be involved in this break. There are no hard and fast rules in life, just guiding principles like “don’t give up” and “put first things first.” I have been Cynwise online for almost 4 years now. We’re comfortable friends, she and I, even though I’m a middle-aged married father of two and she’s an ambitious warlock from Northshire in a video game. I, the person behind Cyn, who’s the player and author behind Cynwise, need a bit of a break from all those layers. I might set aside my Twitter for a bit as Mists gets going, I might not, who knows? I sure don’t.

Thank you very much for reading Cynwise’s Warcraft Manual, Cynwise’s Battlefield Manual, Cynwise’s Field Notes, Green Tinted Goggles, Punt This, Go Mog Yourself, The Adventures of Sparkbinder Cynix in the Worldbreaker’s Shadow, The Warlock Is For Burning, and the continued insanity which is @wowcynwise’s Twitter feed. (Dear LORD that is a lot of weblogs, did I really do all of that?) I really appreciate it, and hope that you’ve enjoyed what you’ve read.

My BattleTag is Cynwise#1158. I’m still planning on playing, but will be quieter on the internet – so please, keep in touch.

Be good to each other, and enjoy the pandas.

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Force ElvUI to use Friz Quadrata TT

I am in a period of UI experimentation and decided to give ElvUI another shot. Having wiped everything out and going back to the basics leaves me with nothing to lose if it decides to take out my keybinds again, so I figured I’d give it a shot.

I’d pretty – I’ll grant it that – but the fonts it uses are terrible. It even rewrites the default font used by the system, so that when you disable ElvUI the character nameplates use a cramped PT Sans Narrow instead of the Friz Quadrata TT that has been a hallmark of World of Warcraft since 2004.

So I was fiddling with it this morning and couldn’t for the life of me change everything in the user interface. The TukUI forums suggested a set of alternate addons or modifying the LUA but I started going, wait, what, why all this just to fix the fonts?

Then I figured the right way to fix it, as with anything on a computer, is to get into the command line and write a shell script.

The following script removes all of the fonts that ship with ElvUI and replaces them with symbolic links to a font of your choosing. I chose Friz Quadrata TT, which I downloaded and placed in my ~/Library/Fonts directory. The symlinks fool ElvUI and World of Warcraft into thinking they’re using the ugly default fonts, but the files they pull up are the font you directed them to.

#! /bin/sh

sourcefont=~/Library/Fonts/frizquadratatt.ttf
elvdir=~/Dropbox/Warcraft/Interface/Addons/ElvUI/media/fonts

for elvfont in Action_Man.ttf DieDieDie.ttf Continuum_Medium.ttf Homespun.ttf PT_Sans_Narrow.ttf
do
rm -v $elvdir/$elvfont
ln -s $sourcefont $elvdir/$elvfont
done

Use at your own risk. No warranty provided, this has the RM command in it so it deletes crap, only works on my computer, etc..

I might try some different fonts – Friz Quadrata looks nice at the larger sizes (8+) but it’s not the best display font for the teeny tiny buttons and chat windows.

That said, it’s an improvement over the defaults.

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On The Sublime Joy of Destruction Warlockery

Holy crap, I’m on fire! Abelard, I’m on fire!

Oh, wait. I’m a Warlock. A Destruction Warlock.

Setting things on fire is what I do.

(Previously. Previously.)

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Queue for Battlegrounds and Dungeons at the Same Time

Unexpected – but welcome – addition in 5.0.4 is that you can now queue for Battlegrounds and Dungeons at the same time.

DPS players, rejoice!

UPDATE: Oh, hey! You can queue for everything ALL AT ONCE!

 

Aw yeah. I’m going to sit around Dalaran and WAIT in several lines AT ONCE.

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Macro: Clear Your Keybinds

Following up on my advice to trash all your keybinds, I found the following macro on Twitter from @pontelon:

/run for i = 1,120 do PickupAction(i) ClearCursor() end

This will remove everything from your bars in one fell swoop. (Be sure to get your secondary specs, too!)

Thanks, Pon! Great macro!

 

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On Worse is Better

I’ve mentioned before that JWZ was one of my blogging heroes; but one of the most dramatic influences he had on me was introducing me to Richard Gabriel’s essay, The Rise of “Worse is Better”. Even though it’s about Lisp and Scheme versus Unix and C++, it’s an excellent, thought-provoking read which looks at why certain computer languages work and thrive, and why others fail. You should read it.

How many of you still use Scheme after college? I know I haven’t touched it or MATLAB since COMP 101, but I’ve sure used Python, Java, and C/C++ in my career as a professional programmer. Is Scheme still useful? Yes. It is widespread? Not outside of academia.

The core idea of the Worse-is-Better philosophy is that simple implementations which achieve most of the desired functionality are superior to complex implementations which achieve the whole thing. UNIX is really a collection of small programs which do certain things adequately, assembled and refined over the years until it’s a rock-solid operating system. But it’s not the stability which makes it so ubiquitous – it’s how it can run on almost anything. Microsoft figured this out with the NT to XP transition, and the success of XP – and relative failure of Vista – should be object lessons

Warcraft, in many ways, is an adherent to the Worse-Is-Better philosophy. The cartoonish graphics and relatively low pixel counts have allowed Warcraft to spread, like a virus, on computers which would not normally be considered gaming machines. The graphics degrade well because the style is simple and doesn’t require high resolution to convey the desired image. More processing power adds better effects but isn’t a requirement to play.

Simplicity is good for adoption. At any time, half of the computers out there are below the median, and if you are spending marketing dollars to get people to try your game you don’t want their machine to be an impediment. Games that don’t support certain operating systems or have high graphics requirements automatically start off at a disadvantage because they limit their customer base. This is a tradeoff from a development standpoint – you can’t port your game to every operating system, you can’t support everything, but you have to support enough to be profitable. I probably would have tried SW:TOR if it had a Mac client, but it didn’t, and I didn’t feel like buying a Windows 7 license and running Boot Camp to try it out. Bioware made a conscious decision to not support Macs to keep their development costs low, which eliminated me as a potential customer. That’s an acceptable tradeoff! It happens all the time. You have to focus your efforts to ship a product.

But that development decision had implications down the road.

Yesterday’s WoW patch (5.0.4) brought with it the new graphical requirements for Mists of Pandaria. It was a bit of a surprise to me, since my laptop – which had run the Beta fine – was suddenly unable to run Warcraft. I wrote about how it affects me personally on tumblr, but I don’t want to dwell on it. It’s done, I can’t use the laptop, my playtime is reduced until I upgrade it (which isn’t happening soon). Other people have it worse than I do – their only computer can’t play their favorite game, and I feel really bad for them.

I think it’s more interesting to consider the bind Warcraft’s longevity has put Blizzard’s developers into. Every year that WoW continues is another year where technology gets better. If we follow Moore’s Law, computers today are 16 times more powerful than when WoW launched, and the game competition being developed now can take advantage of that increase. Warcraft is competing against games that can count on a computer having an order of magnitude more resources than when it was first designed.

In many ways, that’s Warcraft’s strength, because it’s a social game, and mass adoption is key to continued success. I’ve said before that Warcraft is really a video game bolted on top of a social network. But that strength is also a weakness as the game ages, because WoW competes in the market with those other games. It has to adapt, which means that events like yesterday happen. Customers log in and discover that they’re suddenly unable to play because their computer is no longer good enough. All the marketing costs to acquire that customer, all the support and development costs to keep that customer, are lost if they choose not to upgrade their computer.

Consider that cost for a minute. Blizzard incurs a cost to acquire a customer (marketing dollars, core game development, retail packaging and distribution) and an operational cost (customer support, continued development, server hosting and operational upgrades, corporate expenses). The customer has an initial startup cost (buying the game) and an operational cost (subscription fees). This is all pretty straightforward in the short term.

In the long term, however, both sides incur costs to support the game. Blizzard has to spend development resources to maintain old operating system versions, old hardware models. Customers have to invest in hardware to be able to continue playing the game. (The initial investment in buying a computer which can play the game is often overlooked, because it’s the very first part of market selection – “does this person have a computer?” – and is a fundamental assumption.) Increasing the minimum requirement for the game brings this specific assumption into question – does the player still have a computer which can play the game – and also increases the cost for the player. Instead of $15 a month, now the player needs to look at it and say, should I spend $1-2k on a new computer so I can continue to play WoW?

If we assume a 36 month lifetime of a given computer upgrade, it’s $27.78-$55.56 additional a month for the customer. So at a minimum, purchasing a $1k computer to continue playing Warcraft is effectively the same as spending $45 a month on on sub.

Warcraft (or any software package which forces one) gets an unfair part of the blame in this decision to upgrade. There are usually other reasons to upgrade a computer which factor in to the decision (faster CPUs, more hard drive space, more memory) – but psychologically, the triggering event is the one which we focus upon. If I want to play Warcraft on a laptop, I need to get a new laptop. That’s the decision some people are faced with today. They aren’t saying, my web browsing is kinda slow or running a lot of applications (they probably are). They’re looking at Blizzard and Warcraft and going, is this worth an additional $30-60 a month? Do I have the cash to do this? Oh god Christmas is coming up and I was going to get Mists and now I can’t play Warcraft holy fuck what am I going to do I wanted PANDAS.

But computers are sixteen times more powerful than they were when Warcraft launched. That’s amazing!

This is a really interesting aspect of the game industry, and the MMO industry, which I don’t think gets enough attention. How do you have a subscription model where, over the long term, your customers will churn due to equipment requirements? What happens when your product is still going strong almost a decade later? How do you get the broadest adoption?

Worse-is-better is the answer.

Warcraft has taken a lot of heat for its cartoonish graphics, its low-polygon models, its antiquated engine. But that art style, that engine, has had good survival characteristics in the marketplace. I think other game developers and game enthusiasts alike should take note of it – long term success requires broad adoption over a variety of platforms. Your product needs to be easy to port, easy to adapt. Making a hugely complex jewel of a game which can only run on 5% of the computers out there is not going to be as profitable as making a Facebook game.

There’s a somewhat unique balancing act here that Blizzard has to walk. They are tied to old technology that has good survival characteristics, yet have to compete against new tech that can be shinier, faster, fancier. Much like UNIX, I don’t think that a competitor who follows Blizzard’s model is going to usurp them. MMO game clients which overly rely upon the customer’s hardware will keep running into adoption problems. Thin clients with broad platform support are much more of a threat than a traditional MMO because they can be adopted quickly. Put most of the graphical processing up in the cloud and watch the same game get ported to consoles, PCs, smart TVs, smartphones, microwaves, in-car entertainment centers – who knows where they will end up next?

I know I don’t. Not really, not yet.

But I do know that the game industry needs to start thinking more about the lessons Common Lisp taught more than 30 years ago, because asking your customers to purchase new hardware to continue your revenue stream is a tough sell.

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