Tag Archives: Exploits

XP-Off Battleground Exploit Needs Fixing

I’m sadly starting to see more of  a pretty simple exploit that has been around for a while. It’s usable in any of the leveling brackets, but appears to be most common in the 10-14 and 75-79 brackets – anywhere gear differences are potentially very pronounced.

The exploit allows someone to turn off XP while queuing for a regular battleground. Normally, turning off experience places a character in an xp-off battleground with other characters who have done the same. Gear is assumed to be of very high quality in these brackets, and players are assumed to know how to play both their class and the battlegrounds with skill. The exploit allows them to queue with leveling characters, giving them a serious advantage.

The advantage isn’t the problem; any player can choose to lock XP for a while, gear up, farm consumables, get great enchants, and then go to town in a normal battleground. You can do this with disposable heroes, you can do it to learn your class better, you can do it because you like winning in PvP. Warcraft PvP is, in many cases, a game of gear. Locking to gear up and unlocking to PvP is part of that game.

No, the problem is that the exploit deliberately sidesteps the XP lock to allow characters to enter a leveling battleground but avoid gaining experience. It’s cheating. It takes advantage of a delay between turning XP off and queuing for a battleground to get a twink into a leveling bracket. They become immune to the experience gain, even accidental experience gain, that moves people along in these brackets. There’s a level 10 toon on my Alliance server with “of the Alliance” – 100k Honorable Kills – who got it entirely by farming battlegrounds with this exploit. It’s one thing to AFK out of a battleground before each flag cap to avoid experience gains. It’s another thing entirely to cheat so you can cap and win as many BGs as you like because you’re immune to experience.

This exploit is in the same category as the Arathi Basin Fast Start exploit from a while ago – deliberately circumventing the explicit rules of the game. There’s not even a gray area here about how everyone can do it – you need to download an add-on for it, and no, you can google it yourself, I’m not linking to it.

But I hate when things like this happen – it’s bad for leveling PvPers, it’s bad for twink brackets, it’s bad for everyone - but the folks who are cheating. There are a lot of good players in the twink community, players who enjoy the thrill of competing with the best gear you can get for a bracket. I find higher quality battlegrounds in the 19s and 70s and 80s than I ever do at 85.

Yeah, I get it. I get that it’s fun to take a geared toon into a 10-14 bracket and rock it. I get that it’s fun to deck yourself out in Cata greens and kick ass in the 75-79 bracket. It’s fun winning. It’s fun being overpowered.

But play by the same rules as everyone else, for pity’s sake.

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Filed under Cynwise's Warcraft Manual, Green Tinted Goggles

Fence Jumping in WSG and Terrain Exploits

There’s a spot near the middle of the Horde fence in WSG where, if you approach it just right, you can jump onto the fence and then on to the other side. It’s over the tunnel entrance, to the left of the little juke in the fenceline, by one of the torches.

No matter the faction, pretty much every twink FC knows about this jump. Pretty much every twink knows about this jump after playing level 19 for any period of time – you see people going over the fence all the time, you better figure out how to do it quick or you’re going to be SoL. I expect that this is not as commonly known in Rated Battlegrounds, but skilled FCs know how to do it.

Seriously, this fence jump is the worst-kept secret terrain exploit in PvP. I’m a terrible jumper, and even I can do this jump.

It’s a little odd, then, that Blizzard GMs have finally come out and started saying that this jump is illegal and will get you a warning and a ban:

“Hello Dakoduh! My name is Game Master Rodoux. I’m going to need you to refrain from hopping up there on the fence in Warsong Gulch.” This was followed by a temporary ban when the request was not honoured.

In addition to the GM whispers, twinks are reporting that people are getting disconnected mid-jump. I haven’t had it happen to me yet (and I have jumped the fence in the past week, I FC at level 70 after all) but I’m sure it’s probably a matter of time.

I don’t think this situation is like the terrain exploit charges in the Walls of Wintergrasp. It’s pretty clear that there’s a glitch in the Horde fence, and that you have to hit it just right to get over. There’s no corresponding glitch in the Alliance fence, there’s nothing really ambiguous about this – this is a terrain exploit.

Yet… it’s been in there since WSG launched six years ago, and it’s something that tactics and strategies have adapted around. It’s one of the quirks of the terrain, just like the rocky patches around the zerk huts or kiting melee around the tree stumps while firing at them. Your opponents will use it against you, so you better know how to do it in response. It’s been reported many times on the forums as a bug, but has never been fixed. So folks do the jump.

My working theory is that all changes to the battlegrounds right now are due to balancing issues in Rated Battlegrounds. The developers have already stated that their focus is on level 85 PvP, as that’s where most of the player base is at. The BG graveyard changes earlier this year were aimed entirely at disrupting healer-heavy comps in rBGs, by preventing healers from getting back to the FC quickly.

And if your FC is skilled at jumping the fence in rated play, they have an advantage in getting back to their healers quickly. Graveyard blocked? Go fence. Fence blocked? Go ramp. Healers, keep moving to the left until you meet the FC. This isn’t rocket science – there’s a slight imbalance in the map due to this exploit. Even though it’s been there since the beginning, it only matters now because of rated play. This shouldn’t really be a surprise that Blizzard is treating it as an exploit.

But it is, a little bit. The timing is odd. This is one of those quirks which showed you knew what you were doing in Warsong Gulch, that you’d played the map enough to know all the tricks. It’d been there for ages. And it never got fixed.

The warnings, bans, and DCs are likely precursors to an actual fix of the fence. (I so want to see Orc Peons out there repairing the fence when this gets fixed. For real.) The GMs know it’s a problem, they’re watching out for it now, word is getting out that it’s no longer okay for this jump.

The dead-letter law of terrain exploitation may not have been enforced for 6 years with this jump, but it is now.

Part of me does get frustrated with Blizzard when they suddenly start handing out bans for behavior that’s been accepted for years. That’s the part of me that says, fix your shit, Blizzard, it’s broke, don’t blame players for this. More importantly – don’t put players into a position of choosing between using a jumping exploit or not to win in PvP, because even if some don’t, others will.

The other part of me says, yeah, but just because everyone does it doesn’t mean it’s not still a terrain exploit. It sucks, because it’s part of the charm of WSG – but it’s hopping over a fence that is obviously supposed to block movement.

Here’s to hoping that Blizzard fixes it soon so the issue is put to rest.

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Filed under Cynwise's Battlefield Manual, Green Tinted Goggles

The Persistent Problem of PvP Rating Exploits

Velidra sent me the link to the above video of a Destruction Warlock tearing apart battlegrounds with his bare hands. The guy takes on 3 Rogues at once and walks away the sole survivor. If I walk away from an encounter with a single Rogue, I usually count myself lucky. Three of them at once? Game over, man. Game over.

But not for Adouken.

I enjoy PvP videos. They usually make me feel bad about my own UI (how do they do that with so few addons?) but they make me feel great about the potential of my class, and I try to learn from them as best I can.

Videos naturally show a skewed version of a player’s skill, but that’s doesn’t mean that players who show off their skills in them are somehow faking it. They might not be that good all the time, but damn if they weren’t that good at some point, when the cameras were rolling. Odds are pretty high that they are that good, and that they operate at a high level of play all the time.

I don’t play anywhere near as well as you see Adouken play in that video – far from it. Watch that first segment and realize that he’s casting Nether Ward inbetween the time a spell is cast at him and the time it reaches him. You notice how it looks like he reflects Death Coils back at their caster? He’s casting his own Death Coil while his opponent’s spell is in the air. That’s awesome.

There is an objective difference in skill between Adouken’s player and me. While it may not be easy, surely, we can measure it somehow, right?

That’s where PvP ratings are supposed to come in and help us know the great from the good, the poor from the mediocre. They way they work is simple, at least in concept.

  • There are two numbers used in the rating system: Matchmaking Rating (also called MMR) and your PvP Rating. You have different values for each bracket.
  • Your Matchmaking Rating changes with every win and loss, and is used by the system to try to find a level of skill where you’ll win about 50% of the time. You can think of the MMR as measuring your aptitude, your potential rating.
  • Your PvP Rating is based upon your performance over time, changes slowly, and is what PvP achievements, gear rewards, and titles are based upon. PvP Rating, in theory, measures your performance over time.

The goal of the PvP rating system is to match you up with people of equal ability, not to allow you to win all the time.

That’s kinda weird, isn’t it? From a sport perspective, it would be really strange to have a system that wasn’t based on win/loss records (performance). But you also have different leagues and ways of stratifying talent that don’t exist in computer games – local, regional, and national competitions, playoffs, major, minor, and little leagues. So instead, the goal is to put a number on you and say, this is an arbitrary level you’re performing at.

All other things being equal, you should win about 50% of your matches against teams and people of similar PvP rank.

But that’s not how it works.

THE CURIOUS CASE OF THE MISSING MMRS

So a funny thing happened in the 4.2 Patch notes.

  • The individual Matchmaking Rating column has been removed from the Arena scoreboard.
  • The individual Matchmaking Rating column has been removed from the Rated Battleground scoreboard and replaced with a team Matchmaking Rating.

This is kind of curious, isn’t it? What’s going on here?

I’ve said several times that Blizzard is trying to encourage people to get into Rated Battlegrounds in patch 4.2, and that many of the changes are with this in mind. You might think that a change like this is just to make it so that people who join rBGs don’t see how outmatched they are and throwing the match immediately.

While this makes a limited amount of sense, it’s not what’s going on. Yes, this is to try to make Rated Battlegrounds more fair, and therefore more attractive. But hiding the personal MMR is aimed at stopping a series of exploits people are using to get titles in both Arena and Rated Battlegrounds, exploits which are running rampant right now. The most common exploit involves using alts to boost the main characters’s MMR, then winning enough games at the various high levels to get the desired titles.

If you’ve been comfortably playing in a lower Arena bracket, you may have noticed that the last 2 weeks have been rather… more painful than before.

You’re not imagining things.

THE PROBLEM WITH MMR, OR WHY THAT TEAM JUST STOMPED US

[Player]: How about a joke before you go?
[GM]: Your Arena rating.
[Player]: /facepalm

Consider the following facts about how MMR works.

  • Your team MMR (different from your rating, mind you) is equal to the average individual MMR of all the players on the team.
  • In the event of a win, individual MMR should go up, thereby raising the team MMR. Losses reduce MMR, but not as much as wins do.
  • Players on new teams start out with 1500 MMR.

Let’s look at how this works out.

You start the season out with your two friends and start playing 3v3 on your mains. You win some, you lose some, but your individual MMR rises and falls together. If your MMR hits 1800, your teammates are also at 1800. Your MMR, and eventually your PvP rating, accurately reflect your team’s performance to date. Everything is rosy.

Now let’s say one of you has an alt you want to bring in. Maybe it’s because it’s a better comp, maybe it’s just time for a change. Now you’ve got two people at 1800 MMR and one person at 1500 MMR, so your team has a MMR of 1700. You’re facing teams which are a little worse than you were doing before, but maybe the alt is undergeared, so it balances out.

What’s interesting is that it might balance out to fair matches in the 1700-1800 bracket, your individual MMRs are now going to be out of sync. The alt will always have a lower MMR than the other two main characters, and can never catch up.

Now let’s take a step back and change the conditions a little bit. You have a 3v3 team, starts fresh at 1500 and goes to 1800. Two of you drop your mains and swap to alts. Your team’s MMR is now 1600. You’re facing easier teams than you did at the 1800 bracket, so you win, even though the alts might be a little undergeared. They gain +200 MMR, you gain +200 MMR, you’re now at 2000 MMR, they’re at 1700 MMR – and your team is back at 1800 MMR.

With me so far? You’re still playing at 1800 MMR teams, but your personal MMR is 2000, your team’s alts are at 1700.

Now, you swap to to one of your alts, and one of your teammates swaps to their mains. 1500 alt, 1700 alt, and 1800 main are now on a 1666 team. You play until your teammate’s main is at 2000. (You’d be at 1700, the second alt would be at 1900.)

You see where this is going, right?

By cycling through alts, teams are able to artificially boost the individual MMR of their main characters.

Now let’s take this a step further. The team cycles through once or twice, everyone’s mains are sitting around 2000 MMR. The alts are all around 1800, which is really where people’s skills are at.

So the team hops on their alts and loses every single match. Their MMR tanks. They go from an 1800 MMR team to a 500 MMR team in a night. Those characters have terrible MMR now, which is exactly what they want.

Because now, you have a crop of alts at 500 MMR to swap into a team with a 2000 MMR main. The team’s matchmaking rating is 1000, so they’re going to be facing significantly easier opponents. But they’re capable of playing at 1800 MMR, so they dominate. The main’s MMR shoots up to 3000+ while the alts are climbing back up to 1800.

And then once everyone’s mains have an MMR of 4000+, they all rejoin the team and play enough matches to bring their team rating – and therefore their PvP rating, which gives the Gladiator titles – up to the desired level. Yes, their MMR will fall from the heights it reached, but the PvP Rating will rise to meet it somewhere in the middle.

When that team comes and stomps your 1000-rated group you and your friends put together to screw around on with perfect CC chains, huge burst damage and flawless target switching… they should never have been playing you in the first place.

BUT WAIT, RATED BATTLEGROUNDS ARE EVEN WORSE

You know why MMR boosting is an even bigger problem in Rated Battlegrounds? It’s not because they’re BGs, and it’s not because I am trying to pick a fight with rBGs this week.

No, it’s because:

  1. There are 10 people on your team, and
  2. Rewards are based on your individual MMR, not your team MMR.

Nice, huh?

Swapping alts (or even players who don’t care) in and out of BGs can be done like in Arenas, but it’s a little easier to boost MMR due to the number of low rated alts you can bring to the team. If you have 2 players at 1800 and 8 players at 1000, your team will be at 1160 MMR and (hopefully) get matched accordingly.

The coordination required to alt swap and lose MMRs is harder to do with 10 people than with 3. There’s a lot more time involved with Rated Battlegrounds, and the effort put forth by a low-rated character is often the same (or more) than a high-rated one, but the high rated one will get rewarded disproportionately to their efforts. While there is some alt-swapping going on, it’s not as easy as some other methods of boosting your MMR.

No, the best thing to do is to work with a strong group until you’re all up to a decent level – say 1800-2000 – and then PuG like crazy. Get into the worst groups you can find who still have a chance of winning, and play with them. This has the same effect as the alt-swapping MMR boost – when you win, you win big, when you lose, you don’t lose that much – with none of the headaches of having to swap alts yourself. You can go from PuG to PuG, increasing your MMR with each win. You may not win as consistently as you do with your set group, but you will get a great rating, which in turn gives you access to the PvP titles. You don’t even have to win any matches at your new MMR to get the titles, because nothing is based on your team’s MMR or rating – just your individual rating.

Remember back when you thought people’s rating really measured their skill?

/AFK FTW

At some point above, you probably wondered how people can preserve their ratings while losing.

Well, if you leave a match before it finishes, it doesn’t count. This is how win-trading works – people queue in off-hours, trying to get specific teams to match up against, and leave the match if it’s not them. When people leave the match as soon as things start going a little wrong? They’re leaving to preserve their MMR, which gets modified at the end of the match.

You didn’t think people were /afking because they were scared of you, right? :-)

WIN TRADING

Another reason why people /afk out of an Arena (or Rated Battlegrounds, though I think this is less common) match is because they’re trying to trade wins with another team.

This often happens late at night, when there aren’t a lot of teams playing in the different brackets, and it’s been a problem since Arenas started, but obviously if you can find a team who will throw the match for you, it’s a great way to get your PvP Rating to match your possibly inflated MMR.

I don’t have a lot to say about win trading. Don’t think it doesn’t happen, because it does.

WHY BLIZZARD IS HIDING INDIVIDUAL MMRS

Given that there are two different types of MMR inflation going on in both types of Rated PvP, you can start to see why Blizzard is trying to hide that value. It’s not going to prevent the problem from happening, especially not in Rated Battlegrounds, but it can reduce the precision with which people are doing it now. There will be more guesswork when exploiting, both in boosting and tanking individual MMRs.

There’s a concept in security circles called “Security through Obscurity,” which is a way of describing any security system that relies upon something being hidden for it to be secure. It’s usually treated as a bad thing, because once something is found that relies on it, it’s completely insecure. In cryptography, if your sophisticated code algorithm uses a single seed to generate codes, once the seed is known your code is useless. In piracy, if you bury your gold but don’t put a lock on it, anyone who finds the gold can take it.

In other words, security through obscurity is generally not very secure.

There’s a temptation to say that hiding the MMRs is just that – not making the system any less susceptible to exploitation, just hiding the problem. People can still do the things they’re doing now. You are going to face teams who are boosting themselves, who have great gear and skilled players but are playing with an MMR well below their real skill, and you won’t be able to tell anymore.

But, removing the data points does make it more difficult on the exploiters. Not a lot – not like a complete revamp of the MMR system would – but a bit. It’s a relatively simple change in terms of development time which will have some impact. That’s why it’s happening now.

I don’t really like this change, but I see that Blizzard has to do something.

Will teams still be able to boost their MMR into the stratosphere? You bet. As far as I can see, as long as the three conditions I laid out about the MMR system hold true, boosting is possible. You can’t have flexible teams and not have this kind of potential abuse. Will it be harder for other players to find out who is boosting? Yes, it will.

It’s not great. But it’s a start.

IT’S ALL RELATIVE

Man is the measure of all things.

-Protagoras

The interesting thing about the PvP Rating system, at least the Platonic ideal of the PvP rating system, is that it provides a way to compare people with very different character types. No matter what you play, or what your team is like, it should provide a relative measure against other players. The values are arbitrary and entirely dependent upon the actions of other players, as well as your own.

I think about other rating systems that assign a numeric value to your ability – college aptitude tests like the SAT/ACT, IQ tests, even professional placement exams – and they all measure ability based upon fixed criteria. Here is a test, there are right and wrong answers, how did you do? (Please note, I am an old fart, and I still think of the SAT as having all multiple-choice questions, none of this fancy writing stuff.)

Both types of test assign numeric values, which of course makes them more scientific.

But more than that, both purport to measure aptitude, but one is easy to game for your advantage, while the other is not. Why is that?

Take a look at the exploits again. Each one of them involves using other people. The system isn’t the problem, the people are. The system relies upon measuring you and your teammates, and your performance against other teams, which provides two places where it can be exploited.

Your opponents can really only modify your rating through throwing a match and win-trading, which is one kind of problem. You and your teammates can modify it through careful manipulation, boosting some characters, tanking the ratings of others, and preserving gains through /afking.

If these ratings were static and based upon some kind of objective performance, this kind of exploitation would not be possible. You can’t cheat an aptitude test by trying to throw off the bell curve and flooding the test pool with people who are going to score 0. You can’t get a 1600 on the SATs by being better than everyone else in your testing pool – you have to get every question right.

There are objective measurements of player skill, even in an environment soaked in relativity like PvP. Go back to the video at the top of the page. The player’s reaction time is faster than many others. They choose the right spells and abilities to succeed. They position themselves well, they use their abilities in the correct order. There is a measurable difference between that kind of play and my own, and that means we could construct a static test to measure it.

But static tests are hard. They have to be randomized, administered sparingly, maintained and updated. I don’t know how it would capture performance in the field fairly. I have only the vaguest ideas how a static PvP test would work. Perhaps like kata in martial arts, where mastery of a ritualized set of moves – perhaps a scripted PvP encounter for each class – is required to move to the next level?

That doesn’t feel much like PvP to me. PvP requires other players, living, breathing, thinking teammates and opponents.

And yet, as soon as we bring other people into our measure, we open the door for manipulating that rating.

SKILL > RATING

PvP Rating is not equal to skill. As much as we would like to have a system that really represents skill, the PvP Rating system is not it.

The more I look at how the PvP Rating system is being manipulated, the less I respect it. There are a lot of highly skilled players with high ratings, where ability and performance are in sync. But there are plenty of other teams that are taking shortcuts, who are going for the quickest way to their desired goal. They’ll stomp through the lower brackets while boosting a friend’s toon. The only incentives that aren’t about gaining the coveted rating are designed to get people into Rated Battlegrounds – everything else is about getting your numbers up.

Players who deliberately game the rating system sadly affect other players. A 2500 player playing in the 1250 range artificially depresses the ratings of people who would naturally be in the lower brackets. The upper brackets, in turn, get filled with people who have artificially inflated their ratings, giving the people who actually perform at that level easy opponents, inflating their ratings in turn.

The more players who game the system, the more imbalanced the brackets get.

And none of this is a reason to not play Arenas or Rated Battlegrounds.

  • Arenas remains the best place to learn how to win fights in PvP, period. (The only other activity that even comes close is dueling, which is really 1:1 Arena.) Yes, it’s a death match. Yes, there are strict limits about what you can and can’t use. Yes, you’re going to have unbalanced matches. Try to win them anyway. Learn from your losses.
  • Rated Battlegrounds delivered on their promise – they let you play BGs with the team composition you want against really good opponents. You have to win the individual fights, you have to execute a strategy, you have to do it against an organized opponent. Yes, you’re going to have unbalanced matches. So what? Get stronger.

As long as PvP Ratings are a relative measure, players will work together to game the system and artificially inflate their ratings. The exploits I’ve discussed are just some of the ways that players are trying to get around the system.

Is this cheating? Yep, you better believe it. Creative use of game mechanics, my foot.

But while it unbalances PvP, it’s not a reason to abandon Arenas and Rated Battlegrounds.

Skill is not equal to rating. Skill can’t be gamed, it can only be acquired through work and talent.

Screw your PvP Rating. Focus on improving your skill instead.

If you do that, all the exploits in the world won’t matter one bit.

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Filed under Cynwise's Battlefield Manual

The Raid Dropping Exploit of Tol Barad

I heard about a putative exploit in Tol Barad earlier this week, one that would potentially allow you to break the 1:1 ratio of the zone and let you stack players on your side to overwhelm the opposition.

The theory behind it is:

  1. People enter Tol Barad via the queuing system which should try to slot for an equal number of players of both factions. If one side has fewer people than the other, then people on the more populated faction will not be allowed in until the levels are equal again.
  2. Once in Tol Barad, players are automatically placed into 40-man raid groups.
  3. If you drop the raid group, the queuing system thinks that the raid groups are not equal, taking a person from your side’s queue and porting them into the zone without triggering a corresponding add from the other faction.
  4. If enough players on your side do this, you will stack the zone in your favor.

Step 3 is where the exploit supposedly lies. It’s possible that the zone works this way – that raid groups are used to calculate the current population, and therefore could be fooled by removing players from the raid.

That’s the theory. If it’s happening, then this is game-changing – it’s no longer about which side can win this broken battleground, it’s about which side can get more people in through this exploit.

But is it really happening?

STAND BACK, I’M GOING TO TRY SCIENCE

I can talk until I’m blue in the face about how the victory condition of the battleground coupled with a broken capture mechanic all combine to make Tol Barad very hard to win (say that three times fast), but perhaps it’s possible that there is an exploit in progress. Perhaps the Alliance on Durotan did use it to win Tol Barad last weekend. Perhaps the Horde does use it on a regular basis to keep control.

At some point, you have to stop speculating and start experimenting. So let’s test it out.

If the exploit works, then you should be able to observe several behaviors during the battle.

  1. Players should be asking for invites into the raid. This would be due to their dropping the raid that they were originally invited into in an attempt to stack their side.
  2. The number of players in raids should be fewer than the number of players in the zone for any given side. This is also due to the attempted exploit.
  3. The number of players in the zone for one faction should exceed the number of players on the other faction over the course of the battle. This would be the result of the exploit working.

The first is easy to observe by zoning in to the battle and watching general chat. The second is a little more challenging to measure, as you only have visibility into your own raid, but you should be able to measure this through watching the first raid fill up and a combination of /who and counting the people in the /1 General chat channel.

The final criteria, however, requires cross-faction cooperation. Trying to take an accurate tally of people in a crowd is hard enough, but virtual people, engaged in a battle, where they don’t have collision detection, and might be sporting pets, demons, totems, or companions? Nearly impossible to do by observation.

But it’s not impossible if you use /who and the general chat channels on each side. At least, that’s the hope.

But how could I measure the Horde numbers without transferring or leveling an alt?

Unfortunately, lab coats don't come with Resilience.

THE EXPERIMENT

Enter Ermoonia and Rosasharn of <Tech Savvy At Risk Youth> to help with data collection. Ermoonia is a reader of this weblog and killed me the other day in Tol Barad – an action, by the way, which I highly encourage, getting killed by readers honestly makes my day – who also happened to transfer over to Durotan’s Horde side a short time ago. I proposed my experiment to her, and she agreed to help out in this unnatural cross-faction analysis of Tol Barad. (“For SCIENCE!” was our rallying call.)

About two minutes before the battle, I logged in to their Vent server, where I was treated to the most entertaining Tol Barad I think I’ve ever gotten to run. I’ll get to why it was so entertaining in a bit, but here’s what we observed.

  • Alliance players were both leaving the raid without leaving the zone, and then asking a few minutes later to be re-invited back into the raid. Horde players, conversely, were not asking for raid invites.
  • The /who tool proved to be highly unreliable. It seems to max out at 49 results, and also includes people in the Tol Barad Peninsula zone, confusing the count further.
  • We changed over to counting people in General – Tol Barad chat as an alternate benchmark, which seemed to be more accurate.
  • The Alliance started out with 24 players and maxed out somewhere around 46.
  • The Horde started out with around 30 players and maxed out somewhere around 47. Horde generally had 1-2 more players in the zone than Alliance, but the numbers were sometimes equal.
  • At no time, at counts below 40, did the count of people in the General – Tol Barad exceed the raid browser count, on either side.
  • The count between sides would sometimes vary by a few people, usually when Alliance players would leave. Rosasharn mentioned that there was usually a lot of Horde players queuing for Tol Barad, and that not getting in was a sadly common occurrence.
  • The Alliance lost badly. Again.

The implications of these observations are interesting.

  1. It appears that Alliance players (attacking force) were trying to use the exploit, while the Horde players (defense) were not.
  2. Getting accurate counts is much more difficult than it seems. I thought that /who would be the easiest way to provide a running count, but since it counted both Tol Barad zones (combat and non combat) the total it provides is worthless, and the cap on display made it even more worthless.
  3. The faction which was supposedly committing the exploit (Alliance) never outnumbered the faction which was not (Horde), as measured by General – Tol Barad chat.

My conclusion after watching the battle for a while was that if this exploit exists, it doesn’t work very well.

In talking to Ermoonia and Rosasharn, I realized there was an additional factor we couldn’t ignore in all this – the queue size for each faction.

  • The Horde of Durotan regularly queue for Tol Barad and do not get in. As the usual defenders and victors, they have a pool of players for the battle larger than Tol Barad will hold, guaranteeing that any slot that opens up will be filled. The rewards of the battle and access to the raid are such that players look at is as a good investment of their time to queue.
  • The Alliance of Durotan, as the losers, do not regularly queue for Tol Barad. Even though Alliance dominates the server (1.6:1, last time I checked), the player base doesn’t feel that queueing is worth their time, so Tol Barad is filled according to the Alliance queue.
  • It is possible that the Alliance exploit worked, but failed to make any measurable impact due to the lack of people in queue. If someone drops raid and the system can’t replace them, it’s possible that the exploit is working – just not having any effect.

Despite this, I’m don’t think that exploit was working, however. At the earliest stages of the battle – when both sides were around 30-35 players – not once did the Alliance outnumber the Horde. Not once. Even when I saw several people begging for raid invites all at once, the Alliance remained outnumbered or almost evenly matched.

I know that this isn’t conclusive proof. There are several problems with the methodology I can’t deny:

  1. If the faction with the stronger queue was exploiting, then you would see it work in action better than the weaker queue. We observed the weaker queue exploiting, not the stronger.
  2. The measuring methods are not to be trusted. You can only count the raid you are in. /who does not work. General chat may be accurate, but counting manually in a battle is fraught with the potential for error.
  3. The exploit could remove people from the count of General chat as well as the raid browser, rendering them invisible to detection.

But even with these exceptions, this experiment left me concluding that the exploit does not work.

And that’s a good thing.

THE PSYCHOLOGY OF DEFEAT, QQ, AND EXPLOITS

How you react to failure is at least as important as how you react to success.

It’s not easy to admit failure. It’s not easy to admit that you just weren’t good enough in a contest, to accept defeat gracefully. The whole idea of good sportsmanship – y’all remember that one, right? – is to counter the very natural feelings of anger, despair, and frustration you feel when you lose a competition. It’s okay to feel depressed, angry, apathetic, or even relieved when you lose. Culturally, we mask all of those emotions with small rituals designed to keep the competition civil – the handshake after a match, the concession speech by a political candidate, the salute after a surrender – but civility is for the playing ground, not the locker room. Emotions are emotions, after all, and denying them just makes them stronger – and uglier.

Warcraft PvP lacks the post-game handshake. There’s nothing to humanize your opponents, to force you to look them in the eye and say, good job, you outplayed me today. So whatever emotions you feel at losing are yours to deal with, and yours alone.

You can look back on your defeat and say, I was not good enough today, but I will get better. There is always another fight.

You can look back on your defeat and say, the contest wasn’t fair, it wasn’t my fault. It had nothing to do with my skill or ability, or my opponent’s skill – it was a no-win situation. Move on.

Or you can look back at your defeat and say, they cheated. The dirty, stinking bastards cheated.

This is the white elephant in the room when discussing any type of exploit in a group PvP environment. Is the exploit really happening, or is it fulfilling the desires of those who have lost to explain their defeat? Software bug or rationalization? Did your opponent cheat to win, or were you just not good enough? Sometimes it’s easy to see a bug in action, but often, it’s not.

The psychological problem is compounded by a very real fact: we are playing a computer program with known bugs. Stuff doesn’t work right all the time. (Heck, sometimes, it barely works at all!) And unlike a real-life sporting event, where you can assume things like, oh, the laws of physics apply, and if there are 11 people on the field then it means there are 11 people on the field – in computer games weird shit can and does happen.

When I wrote How DID They Win That Wintergrasp?, I was acutely aware that there were legitimate bugs affecting Wintergrasp. Driving vehicles through the walls was bad enough, but worse was that that bug lent legitimacy to the idea that the weaker faction could glitch out the system into an instant-siege scenario. Even after the weighting structures of the zone were confirmed by blue posts, players still complained about the other side cheating to get a mass of siege engines at the start of the game.

Well, there are legitimate bugs that have affected Tol Barad. It was possible to gain massive amounts of honor without ever participating in the battle by walking across the bridge at a certain time. I’m sure we’ll find more bugs as time goes on.

And now we have this rumored exploit.

The presence of one bug lends credence to the idea that there may be others. The bugs of Cataclysm gnaw at our psyches, making us doubt if the world is really working as intended or not. Maybe the other side is cheating. Maybe we should cheat to win, too, because they’re obviously doing it.

This rationalization is the path to the dark side of ourselves. Tread carefully.

THE MANY FAILURES OF TOL BARAD

Rosasharn: Are you guys just mindlessly zerging IC?

Cynwise: Uh, hang on. *checks map* Yes, yes we are.

Rosasharn: *pauses* Er. Why?

Cynwise: *scrolls back through general chat* No one’s running the show. We’re completely leaderless right now.

Cynwise: *pauses* It’s working out well for us, isn’t it?

Ermoonia: *laughs*

The Alliance on Durotan-US has gotten its ass kicked in Tol Barad pretty much since it opened. Excepting the Win-Trading Week, we’ve held it for about a day, maybe two, since Cataclysm launched. I’ve been in well-led offenses that can’t crack the 2/3 barrier, and been in total clusters of fun that barely manage to cap 1/3.

So, yeah. I lose Tol Barad every single time I play it. Haven’t won it yet.

I’m pretty firmly convinced that the design of the battleground is the biggest problem Blizzard should address, and that the Horde on Durotan don’t need to do anything but show up and execute a simple defense strategy to hold Tol Barad against the Alliance. The incentives are all there for the Horde to show up – plenty of honor, access to the dailies – and winning has created a culture of success, where they expect to win, they know how to win, they’ll field enough people to win, and if they lose they’ll make it a priority to take it back.

The Alliance, on the other hand, has accepted defeat in Tol Barad.

Rosascharn: How are you guys getting to exalted? That must be a painful grind.

Ermoonia: I’ve wondered the same thing.

Cynwise: *thinks for a minute* I don’t think I know anyone who’s exalted yet. Most people assume it will happen, eventually, but they’re not pushing to get it done.

The mentality of defeat is hard to admit, but honesty compels me to admit it – I don’t see taking Tol Barad as being worth my effort. Will I get all the rewards from there that I want? Sure, with time and some patience. It’s not worth my time and energy to bang up against a really tough battle for some extra gold and a little more progress towards a goal I don’t care all that much about. The gold from the dailies is worthless as a motivator; I make more farming in 10 minutes than those quests reward. The trinket? I’m focused on PvP right now, it’s not the trinket I want. The raid? Hmm. Not raiding right now, and PuGs have always been iffy. The mounts and pets? I’ll get there eventually.

The problem is when individual apathy becomes cultural. The Horde care about holding Tol Barad – they are used to doing it, they have a lot of people interested in the rewards, they have more spirit and enthusiasm for the place than the Alliance. The Alliance doesn’t seem to care. We’re resigned to not having it, so even when we do take it, there’s no cultural impetus to keep it. It’s not a habit Alliance players have formed. Rousing people to keep control of the zone is more work than actually taking it – when we get it, I get texts and twitters from guildmates telling me to get my ass into TB so we can hold it, but it rarely works.

And then there is the problem, clearly demonstrated in watching the Alliance play, that most of the time, we’re not even trying anymore.

Cynwise: Warden’s just fell, so you’re going to Slag next, right?

Rosascharn: Er…

*awkward silence*

Cynwise: *laughs* It’s the logical place to go, you’re going Slag. It doesn’t matter, we’re all still zerging Ironclad.

Of the Tol Barad battles I’ve witnessed, some have been good attempts with strong leadership, but many have been rudderless zergs, with AFKers leeching honor while other players raced randomly over the map, each according to their individual whim.

The Horde comes in, they know their plan, they execute it. IC is falling, go WV. WV is falling, go Slag. Slag is falling, go IC. They know that if they execute that plan, they win.

The Alliance doesn’t know how to win, and when it has a plan, it doesn’t execute it properly. The strong leadership isn’t there, because most players have quit Tol Barad out of frustration.

The most sobering finding of my experiment was discovering that Horde on Durotan don’t need to cheat to win. The Alliance simply isn’t playing well enough, and doesn’t care enough as a server faction to hold it for any length of time.

Player frustration is one thing; at least they’re trying to participate in the game. Player apathy is another matter entirely, and far more dangerous to a game developer. I think this was the problem Blizzard was really trying to fix when they increased the Honor Point gain for offensive wins in Tol Barad – they wanted to interrupt this culture of losing before it began.

But here it is. That people have come up with this exploit, real or imagined, is a symptom of that culture.

Players want to play a fair game. They want to think there is a good chance of their winning if their skill and ability is good enough. It doesn’t matter if you look at a game and go, wow, the odds are really in the house’s favor on this one, people can and will convince themselves that they have a good shot of winning. That delusion is normal human psychology at work. We adapt our model of reality to fit our desires, not to fit reality.

If we don’t win a fair game, then the other side must have cheated.

Yet, we delude ourselves – this game was never fair to begin with.

Do not mistake me: I consider this exploit to be a cheat on the level of the Arathi Basin Fast Start exploit. It is deliberately trying to circumvent the rules of the game to achieve victory, and – if I thought it was really happening – I’d agree that this is a bad, bad thing.

But Tol Barad’s problems are deeper and more fundamental than just the rumor of an exploit. The incentives for participating but losing are too low. The rewards are geared wrongly. The capture mechanic, combined with the victory condition, is broken. Something needs to be changed to make it feel more fair. It doesn’t need to be more fair, just give the impression that it’s that way.

CONFRONTING YOUR OWN BIAS

I’m grateful that <Tech Savvy At Risk Youth> let me crash their vent server for this experiment. It was a nice reminder that we’re all playing the same game, no matter what faction we might be representing at the time. It was funny trying to get together for a post-battle screenshot – I kept getting killed by other Horde players, they nearly ran into the Alliance guards – but it offered a sense of completeness to the evening, that post-game handshake that this game lacks.

But I was also struck by how personal an experience these world PvP zones are, how difficult it is to really form an unbiased opinion of them. So much depends on your server dynamics; intra-faction, inter-faction, if guilds are working together to take the zone for the raid boss or not, PvP experience on each side. I am a player in these games, just like you, and I’m acutely uncomfortable crying too loud about how hard Tol Barad is, precisely because my side happens to lose a lot. I worry about that white elephant in the room named QQ a lot whenever I complain publicly.

Seeing your team’s efforts through your opponent’s eyes is a wonderful thing. We sucked as a team during this particular battle. There’s no way to sugar coat it – our side had absolutely no business winning. We lacked the coordination, strategy, and ability to execute.

And we were trying to cheat to win.

Instead working harder, communicating better, and outplaying our opponent – people on my team were trying to cheat the god damn system to win.

That makes me feel pretty damn awful, truth be told.

It’s pretty disappointing to have to face that your teammates are willing to cheat. I don’t want to cheat to win. I want to beat people on fair, even terms. Yes, I advocate using the absolute best gear you can afford when going into a battleground and training your skills to absurd heights for your level. Yes, I advocate using terrain to your advantage.

But I can not condone breaking the rules of the game.

It’s even worse to think that this isn’t unique to Durotan, but is becoming more widespread as the rumor of it spreads. Players are desperate to win, and they will convince themselves that this works. Maybe it does, and I didn’t test it correctly. Maybe it doesn’t. Maybe it’s been hotfixed, and it did work before, but not since I tested it. I personally don’t think it ever worked, but it’s not really the point anymore.

We have a PvP encounter which is tuned to be hard for the attacking side. With the introduction of rated Battlegrounds, perhaps Blizzard was expecting more coordinated groups to be fighting in Tol Barad. Ultimately, that’s the kind of discipline and communication you need to win as an attacker! Trying to take the zone in a PuG is the real nightmare.

Perhaps that’s the right analogy to cleave to: just as raids are tuned towards challenging even great raid guilds right now, Tol Barad is oriented towards the rated Battleground groups, where discipline and communication are the norm, and PuGs will, by necessity, suffer.

Or perhaps, that’s how I see it – because I’m losing all the time.

THE TRAGEDY OF TOL BARAD

I looked at Tol Barad when Cataclysm launched, when I was putting together my PvP gear list, and I dismissed it. I was polite about it, but let’s face it – I dismissed it as a source of PvP gear or points.

The Week of Win Trading did nothing to change my mind: the gear is not worth getting for PvP. Period. In an area where Resilience is king, none of those items are good enough to waste your time grinding.

This leaves you a PvP zone with PvE rewards, which baffles me as to how it’s supposed to motivate the right people to come in to make it a good battle. The motivation is for raiders to go and try to get the shiny trinkets and gear; but the raiders are not necessarily the ones who are running rated BGs now. Perhaps that’s it; this is a test of coordination for a raid group, to show them how running a rated battleground would work, to show players that yes, you can do this if you work together. It’s the carrot to get people into battlegrounds.

But it’s frustrating enough that people want to believe the other side cheats, which is not normally the case in normal battlegrounds. (There, people blame their own team for sucking.)

You want to know why you lose a given battleground? 99% of the time, it’s because you were outplayed. Maybe your opponents were better geared. Maybe they stuck to their strategy. Maybe they had a better class composition during the individual engagements. Maybe they used vent or /bg chat. Maybe they were just better players than you were. Whatever it was, you got outplayed. Get over it.

Most of the time, when you lose in PvP, you get over it. You learn what you can from the loss and move on. So you got outplayed in a video game! Big fucking deal. Boo fucking hoo. Get over it.

This started off as a discussion about a simple question – is the raid dropping exploit of Tol Barad real? – but in trying to answer that question, it’s become a discussion of personal motivation and bias, of the desire to win at all costs, of what makes something QQ versus raising legitimate problems with a battleground. The exploit itself is not as important as the fact that people believe it works, that they want it to work.

I think the real tragedy of Tol Barad is not that it’s unbalanced, not that it’s too hard to assault, not that Blizzard turned it into a loot pinata for a week and screwed over the idea of fairness.

No, the real tragedy of Tol Barad is that it’s giving people the wrong idea about what PvP should be like. Winning is not about skill in PvP, or of choosing the right battle at the right time and winning it – no, in Tol Barad, PvP is about working together to cram as many people as possible into a node, and then play musical chairs until someone falls out of a chair.

No wonder people want to cheat.

I find Tol Barad hugely frustrating. I don’t want to write about it too much, because I see that my biases are affecting my judgement on it. There are problems there; lots of problems. But I’m also left wondering: why should I, as a player, even care about the problems anymore?

I wish I had an answer to that.

 

Update 1/27/2011: Blue post confirms this exploit doesn’t work. Hooray for science!

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Filed under Cynwise's Battlefield Manual

The Walls of Wintergrasp and Terrain Exploits

I hate to sound like all I’m thinking about these days are exploits, but I was recently shown a conversation between a player and a GM which confirmed a prediction I made back in February: that Blizzard applies the same reasoning to the walls of Wintergrasp as they do to the Stables of Arathi Basin. The conversation is between a player and a GM over attacking people near the mount vendors from the walls, something that happens all the time.

Blizzards stance, as stated in both blue posts and GM conversations, is consistent. From the blue post:

Players accessing any area of Arathi Basin in order to engage other players from a safe vantage point but avoid combat themselves is considered a reportable exploit.

From the GM, Gallordrynn:

(I)f you can attack someone from a vantage point and they have no way possible to reach you or attack back then it is clearly terrain exploitation.

(GMs) will all agree that attacking someone from a vantage point in which they cannot escape, defend themself, or reach their attacker is considered terrain exploitation and is a bannable offense.

This now seems like a clear, well-articulated policy within Blizzard. It’s no longer just a blue post, it’s part of the GM’s handbook. There is a policy that says certain activities within PvP are considered bannable offenses. The language is clear and repeated several times. (“Vantage point.”)

But what, specifically, are these activities? How do they differ from normal PvP? Even with a clear policy and message, I’m as confused as the player in the screenshot as to what Blizzard considers an exploit and what they don’t. The message may be clear, but the application of it is certainly not. How can doing PvP get me banned?

In other contexts I can agree with what Blizzard is doing with this policy. There are times and places where you can exploit the terrain to your advantage, and doing so is grossly unfair to other players. That kind of thing should be stopped.

I don’t think Blizzard has fully considered the implications of this rule in Wintergrasp. In applying it to Wintergrasp Keep they’ve classified many PvP activities as bannable offenses. Not just world PvP ganking from the tops of walls, either — normal participation in the defense of the Keep, during a battle, is now a bannable offense.

There’s a time and place for every rule. Wintergrasp is not the place for this one.

WHAT IS A TERRAIN EXPLOIT?

Based on the rulings we’ve seen so far, I think we can make a working definition of what Blizzard considers to be a terrain exploit.

To exploit the terrain in PvP, you must cause damage from a position where your opponent:

  1. Can’t escape,
  2. Can’t defend themselves, and
  3. Can’t reach you.

There are therefore two vital components to a terrain exploit: damage and position. Each of those is problematic when talking about the fairness of an exploit, but damage is at least easier to identify.

My twink has been trying to get the Arena Grand Master trinket from the Gurubashi Arena in STV lately, and I’ve gotten to watch some wicked healing exploits first hand. Basically, a group of fighters will come into the arena with their healers lining the ring around the floor and mop up. The healers are untouchable by everyone – I play on a PvE realm, and they’re not flagged for FFA combat – and the only way to take out their DPS is to get them out of range of some of the healers and burn through the healers.

Given that several of those DPS were in full Wrathful PvP gear, killing them took a lot of coordination and focus. And then they’d show up again a few seconds later. :-(

According to Blizzard’s own statements, this is not an exploit. They’re not doing any damage, just healing their friends from an unassailable position. Even though that healing is directly affecting the outcome of PvP combat, and there’s nothing anyone can do about it, it’s not an exploit.

It’s clever use of the rules of the STV Arena, that’s what it is. Work that one around in your head a bit.

The great thing about the STV Arena is that things are so clear cut in a PvA environment. Either you are flagged for PvA, or you are not. If you are flagged for PvA (down on the Arena floor), everyone can attack you. If you are in the stands, you are not flagged, and therefore untouchable (unless flagged for PvP.) The game very clearly draws a line between who is accessible and who is not.

But what about those areas where the lines are not so clearly drawn?

THE UNTOUCHABLES

There

We now have two examples of what Blizzard considers to be exploits: the roof of the Arathi Basin Stables and attacking people near the vendors from the walls of Wintergrasp Keep. What do these two situations share in common?

  1. Both take place in PvP zones between PvP-flagged players. There is no PvE in the area.
  2. Both involve a difference of elevation to separate the two players. They are on different surfaces with the exploiter having the high ground. (Thus, preventing the victim from being able to jump down to the other player.)
  3. There is no clear path between the two players. Pets can’t go from one to the other, warriors can’t charge, etc..
  4. Ranged attacks, and only ranged attacks, are possible between the two players.
  5. The exploiter has a line of sight defense readily available to them due to their position. They can attack and move back out of LoS quickly. While attacking both parties have LoS on each other; but the exploiter can break LoS with a few steps.
  6. There are clear escape paths available to the victims. They can quickly run out of range of the attacker, who must abandon their unassailable position to follow.

The situations aren’t identical, however.

  1. The Wintergrasp vendors are only available when the battle is not in progress, so this is not during a timed battleground. Arathi Basin has a PvP objective and a clock running.
  2. Because there is no battle, you can bring in unlimited reinforcements into the Wintergrasp zone. Arathi Basin is limited to 15 on 15, and you can’t summon your friends.
  3. Flying is permitted in Wintergrasp when there is no active battle, but never in Arathi Basin. This means that the exploiter is accessible to anyone with a flying mount who is either currently mounted or not currently in combat. In Arathi Basin, the Stables roof is accessible to anyone who knows how to jump.
  4. There are other Wintergrasp vendors who sell most, but not all, of the items in that location. There is only one flag at the Stables, and only one roof.
  5. There is a clear escape path in both cases, but in Arathi Basin the objective you’re abandoning is mandatory, not optional. You have to fight for the right to shop at the Wintergrasp Mall; fighting through the checkout line shouldn’t surprise anyone.

How do all of these compare against the stated policy (no escape, no way to defend themselves, or can’t reach the attacker)?

In both situations players can escape their attackers. The GM makes a big deal about the inability of the non-mounted victim to escape, but most sensible people in Wintergrasp just run out into the courtyard, get out of combat, and mount up. The position of the attacker doesn’t prevent the victim from escaping. If you choose not to run away and stand and fight, that’s your choice, but if you take off when you get hit you’ll likely get away. So it’s not really escape.

Classes with ranged attacks can defend themselves, but melee cannot, if by defense we really mean counterattack. There are no LoS bugs in AB or WG that prevent players in these positions from trading ranged attacks; the only limiting factor is range, and that would be true regardless of the presence of the wall or roof. If one side has range extension talents and the other does not, well, that’s an imbalance no matter where they are. The person with longer range will usually win, which is why most PvP talent builds take the range extension talents. It may be difficult to return fire if the attacker make smart use of LoS, but that’s true of anyone using LoS intelligently. Using LoS around a pillar or doorway achieves the same effect, where you create very small windows where you can cast instant spells on your target and then hide. If your opponent is spamming instants back at you, you’ll get hit, too. (LoS doesn’t defend against smartly placed AoE, though.)

Melee classes, however, are at a disadvantage in these situations. They can’t do much to the attacker except try to get up to their position by either climbing up to the roof themselves or by getting out of combat, mounting up, and flying to the top of the wall. This makes it harder for melee to effectively counterattack, though not impossible.

Obviously, nothing the attacker does from their high vantage point prevents the other player from using their defensive abilities. Real defensive abilities (Shadow Ward, Ice Block, bubbles of all shapes and sizes, etc.) function just like as if the attacker were on the ground shooting at them.

So the salient feature out of all of this is that the player does not have a clean path to their attacker. If they are a ranged class they can return fire, but there’s nothing a melee class can do once they’re in combat in that situation. Pets cannot travel from one player to the other (though pet ranged attacks still work), Warriors cannot Charge up a wall.

Pathing appears to be the common factor in determining if a position is an exploit position or not. A Warrior can’t directly attack someone on the balcony in the WSG flag room, but a pet can find its way to that person and savage them. The same warrior could run along that same path and reach the balcony (or roof, for that matter.) The different in elevation doesn’t matter, the fact that the warrior has no real counterattacks is irrelevant – if a dumb pet can get to that attacker, then the smart melee can, too.

We then have a definition to work with: terrain exploits are when you attack from a place where no clear path exists between you and your target, best tested by pet pathing.

But there’s a problem with this definition. A big problem.

THE PLATFORM PROBLEM

Wintergrasp Walls - THESE ARE THE OK PLATFORMS GUYS

Defensive Platforms in Wintergrasp

The above picture highlights the defensive platforms along the eastern side of Wintergrasp Keep. Each section of wall has three components: two walls, a central pillar, and a gun platform accessible from inside the keep. The guns only appear during a battle, and the platforms are often used during the battle as positions where defenders can attack the offense from relative safety. Melee players on the offense can’t get to them, and ranged offense have to establish LoS to attack defenders. Smart defenders duck back off the platform and heal between sniping folks on the ground.

The lower platforms around the tower are similar, though they don’t have guns. Guns do appear on the upper tower platforms, and if you have extended range talents you can stand up there and cast on the ground. On the lower platforms you’re fairly exposed to the enemy, but you can step behind the smaller walls or back up and break LoS to heal safely.

Pets cannot reach these platforms. Warriors cannot Charge up to them. The offense cannot reach them without breaking down a wall, unless you’re a Rogue with Shadowstep, but Shadowstep breaks pretty much every rule in the game.

Yet, these platforms are obviously intended as part of the defensive fortifications of the keep. This isn’t a situation like the walls, which you couldn’t get onto before flying was introduced in Wintergrasp. This isn’t like the roof of the Stables, where you have to be a proficient jumper to get up there. There are ramps with two stairs up to those gun emplacements. The lower tower platforms have walls that are lower and higher to give you defensive options. These platforms are important parts of the defense of the keep.

But the defensive platforms allow you to attack from a place where no clear path exists between you and your opponent.

It doesn’t matter if the Battle for Wintergrasp is in progress or not, honestly. If I’m on the platform, and you’re on the ground, you can’t get to me if I attack you. The situation is exactly the same as someone taking pot shots from the wall at players at the WG vendor… except there’s no shopping going on.

So is attacking from the defensive platforms an exploit? If I want to follow what Blizzard has set forth, yes, it is. But I’m encouraged to use them in the battle! To put them in usability terms, the platforms afford this use. They suggest that you are up high and can shoot at people, so you shoot at people from them!

The only difference between the defensive platforms and tops of the walls – aside from protecting the WG shopping experience – is that you could argue that the developers intended the platforms to be used that way, but not the tops of the walls. I heard this objection a lot when discussing Arathi Basin, and I think it’s particularly troublesome. Especially here.

THE PROBLEM WITH DEVELOPER’S INTENT

Wintergrasp Walls - The Developer's Intent

Okay, so where is it okay to stand?

Where is it okay to stand and fight? That’s really what this discussion comes down to, isn’t it? As players who want to follow the rules, but also want to win, where is it okay to stand in Wintergrasp? Knowing that you can get a ban from attacking from easily accessible locations makes me very uncomfortable. This entire post is trying to determine some logical rules telling me where I should and shouldn’t stand.

I had several great commenters disagree with me on the Stables roof exploit, saying that players aren’t stupid and they know what the intent of the developers are in a given situation, and that circumventing that intent is disingenuous at best and dishonest at worst. There is a lot of validity to this argument. I’ve fallen through the walls of Stormwind, which is obviously not the developer’s intent (though it’s ultimately harmless.) People who exit the starting area in Arathi Basin to cap flags before the start of a match are obviously circumventing not only the developer’s intent, but the rules of the battleground. (It’s the preparation period, for crying out loud!)

But what happens when it’s not so clear cut? What about when getting to a spot is trivially easy and part of the game? I’m no longer talking about a set of jumps onto a roof, I’m talking about landing your flying mount on a platform.

Let’s look at the walls of Wintergrasp in the picture above. I’ve marked off three types of areas, all which fit the criteria of attacking players from an unreachable position. Green areas are those which afford you to stand and launch ranged attacks at your opponents – either there are ramps leading up there, or stairs, or doors, or guns – something suggests that this would be a good spot to defend the walls from. Yellow areas are questionable areas. They’re accessible on foot while the battle is raging, but the affordance is less obvious. You have to climb over a defensive wall and drop down to get onto this wall. There are similar spots in Isle of Conquest, by the way, but they’re much easier to get to – just drop down off the tower and land on the keep wall. Red areas are only accessible via flying mount or parachuting in from Icecrown, and are probably considered off-limits during the battle.

Wintergrasp is especially problematic because there were two distinct phases in its existence: pre- and post- flight. When it launched it was like an old-Azeroth zone, with the only flight possible via taxi birds across it. If you took your flying mount over WG you would get dismounted. So all of those areas marked in red were completely inaccessible until patch 3.2, when flight was enabled in the zone – but only when the battle was not in progress. So you could argue that flight was never in the developer’s original intentions, since the zone, as released, was a ground-only zone, and that the red zones were never intended to be landed upon.

But if you look at the history of Wintergrasp’s development, they fully intended to have not only flight, but aerial combat within the battle! It was on the box but never made it into the game! That’s why the upper reaches of Wintergrasp are so developed; it wasn’t just a sense of completion, but also because the developer’s intention was to have flying PvP.

If you didn’t know the history of Wintergrasp’s development, you would still be presented with features like this room, atop one of the towers in the southern courtyard:

 

Huh. I wonder what

If you haven’t been in this room, which I believe was rumored to be one of the spawn points for the defenders, you should take a look. It’s a great example of Titan interior decorating.

As a player, what should you infer about flight in this zone? There’s a lot of exploring you can do above ground on the structures, a lot of interesting details coupled with flat areas for PvP. Folks often have running battles atop the walls. There’s nothing in here to say flight isn’t allowed, or that standing on the walls is a bad thing to do. This is a World PvP zone, where even on PvE servers people explore the terrain, make use of cover, and ambush folks mercilessly.

So why is it okay to engage other players where there is no clear path between you and them in some spots and others? What makes the platforms okay but the tops of walls not?

Here’s my biggest objection with saying that players should know the developer’s intention and use their judgement to know what is right and wrong. Sometimes, the developer’s intention clear. But when it is not, it is unfair to blame the players for misunderstanding unwritten rules. Players may get mixed signals because design goals changed mid-stream, or just because of bad design – but whatever the reason, it is clear that the No Clear Path policy in Wintergrasp directly contradicts elements of the battle itself, and saying that it’s okay in some cases because the developers intended it there is tacitly admitting that the rule is arbitrary.

Holding people to an arbitrary standard is unfair. Banning them for doing something you’ve actively encouraged is inexcusable.

THERE IS A REASON BEHIND EVERY SIGN AND RULE

Every time you see a bad sign, say on a refrigerator at the office or on the notice board at school, or run into a stupid, arbitrary rule or law, you can be assured that something prompted that sign or rule. Someone did something stupid that prompted someone else to make a rule that says you shouldn’t drink whiskey from someone else’s hat, or to put up that sign reminding folks not to eat other people’s lunches.

I think that’s the case here, with the No Clear Path rule. There are legitimate exploits that prompted Blizzard to put this rule in place, just not in Wintergrasp.

  • In Goldshire, it’s possible to jump up on top of both the Inn and the Smithy, allowing players to gank lowbies with impunity. Getting to these places involves some complex jumping and there’s no clear path.
  • On the Isle of Quel’Danas, attackers could get out of reach of the guards so that they could attack other players, but any retaliation would cause the guards to attack their victim instead. (I think Silithus worked like this, too.)

I’m sure there are other examples that led to this rule. In situations like Goldshire, you can see why Blizzard might step in and take action; it’s not fun, it ruins new player’s enjoyment of the game before they have really committed to it, etc.. It’s not a bad rule, per se.

It’s just that Azeroth has changed. World PvP battlegrounds like Wintergrasp are relatively new. The game changes, and rules have to adapt to those changes.

Look at the above picture of the WG heirloom vendors. The entire area is a PvP zone, a place where players try to gain every advantage when attacking other players. This place is where the most distracted players will be, as they consider how they’re going to spend their Stone Keeper’s Shards and Wintergrasp Marks of Honor. This is a target rich environment for ganking.

But if you play a ranged DPS class, don’t stand on the wall to attack, even though that’s the most advantageous spot for you to attack from, because you’ll get banned. No, the proper tactic now is to put your healer friend up on the wall and you fly down into the thick of things, which totally plays to your strengths as a ranged DPS. Don’t worry, the healer will keep you alive!

Wintergrasp is a world PvP zone with no new players. Anyone who gets here has been playing for a while and has a character who is within spitting distance of max level. Nearly everyone here can be assumed to have flying mounts, and it’s a good bet that the zone is filled with all 80s. If there’s any place in the world where World PvP can take place on equal terms, this is the place.

And yet, Blizzard is trying to apply a rule designed for other places and times here, which reveals the flaws of that rule.

ALL’S FAIR IN LOVE AND WORLD PVP

Are you sure it

Here I am, atop the structure in the antechamber of VoA. The only way to get up here is to wait for a battle that destroys at least the top part of the chamber gates, fly in at full speed near the top, then pull up sharply. If you time it right, you’ll land right on this ring, which allows you to gank people below with minimal risk. You can be targeted pretty easily, and it’s easy to get flanked so there’s no LoS defenses, but you can cause a lot of havoc from up here.

I’m pretty sure that I shouldn’t attack people from up here. There are very specific conditions that have to be present to access this ring (gates must be open), and if you log out at the end of one battle and log in again after another one, you can be up there with no way for other players to reach you. So while the gates are down, this ring is like the walls of Wintergrasp Keep, albeit a little trickier to reach. But when they’re closed, you’re honestly inaccessible. It’s not fair to hit people from up there.

But this is world PvP. Just because you win Wintergrasp doesn’t mean you can walk in and out of it unmolested. I have heard of servers where one faction loses Wintergrasp only to successfully deny the other side access to VoA through PvP domination of the entrance. That’s pretty cool, actually; just because you lose a battle doesn’t mean you have to lose the war.

I confess, I was really disappointed when I saw the screenshot that started this post. I had hoped that Blizzard was not going to apply the same conditions to Wintergrasp that they’d imposed on Arathi Basin, that they’d recognize that part of the mechanics of the battle is making yourself unassailable on defense.

But they didn’t.

FIXING IT

I admit, I’d rather see this rule just go away than try to salvage it. But since it does serve a purpose in other contexts, perhaps Blizzard could make some changes to take Wintergrasp into consideration.

  • Don’t design new battlegrounds to use terrain exploits as part of their mechanics. Wintergrasp is now old content, but having the same behavior be okay in one place and time, and bannable in another, is confusing and demoralizing to players. Don’t give the defense this advantage in the new battlegrounds.
  • Don’t enforce terrain exploitation bans in battlegrounds which do have it as part of their mechanics. Save time and money by ignoring tickets of people attacking on the walls so you can focus on other, more serious problems with your staff, like hackers using programs to automatically gather resources.
  • Consider giving players more abilities to reach attackers in unusual locations. Rocket packs would be a good place to start. As used in the Gunship Battle, rocket packs give players the ability to move to unusual places while in combat. If this kind of item were made available for general use, this kind of exploit would be nearly impossible because players could always reach their attackers. Plus, rocket bears!
  • Treat healing and damage the same way. Exceptions like that make no sense and lead to further exploits, like in the Gurubashi Arena.

Rewriting the policy would be another obvious step, but to be honest I don’t know how you could do it to be effective in the places you need it (Goldshire) and not where you don’t (Wintergrasp, BGs).

TL;DR

Blizzard considers attacking other players from a vantage point where your opponent cannot easily reach you terrain exploitation, which is a bannable offense. This rule was applied in Arathi Basin to players accessing the Stables roof, and is now being applied to players attacking other players near the Wintergrasp vendors from the top of the wall.

This rule should not apply to players in Wintergrasp for several reasons.

  1. Mounted players can immediately escape. Unmounted players can run back out of range of their wall-bound attacker, get out of combat, and mount a flying mount. If a player is on a flying mount, the attacker is not inaccessible.
  2. Wintergrasp Keep has many vantage points where opponents cannot reach defending players that are integral parts of the Battle for Wintergrasp. The gun platforms on the walls and towers, as well as the platforms surrounding the towers, give defenders the same advantage as being on top of a wall.
  3. Taking advantage of these terrain exploits is encouraged by the design of the Keep, as well as the tactical necessities of the battle.
  4. The introduction of flight back into Wintergrasp only adds to the number of vantage points where players can exploit the terrain. It does not change that terrain exploitation, as defined by this rule, is both possible and encouraged by the design of the battleground.
  5. If there are differences between the vantage points that make some permissible but others not, they are not obvious to players, nor are they reflected in the rules as currently understood.

While it is almost certainly impossible to change Wintergrasp so that the rule can be fairly applied at this point, I hope that Blizzard will stop enforcing it in Wintergrasp and design their future battlegrounds to not encourage behavior that can get players unwittingly banned.

I love Wintergrasp. It pains me to have to choose between playing it with all my creativity and cunning and risking a ban, or playing it safe while my opponents do not.

But banning people for playing the way the game teaches them to play is not fair.

 

 

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The Arathi Basin Fast Start Exploit Needs Fixing

I took the above picture after exploiting a bug in the walls of Stormwind that allows you to break out of the model and fall underneath the city.  It’s actually really cool, if offering little or no tactical advantage – you run around on a big plane with the city half-formed above you.  You can explore the hills above Stormwind Harbor, run all the way to the Burning Steppes, and fall through holes in the floor to special locations within Stormwind, like the Wizard’s Sanctum, above.  (If you place a Demonic Circle on the ground before jumping, you can teleport back under the city when you’re done!)

Wall bugs and exploration exploits like this are harmless.  If you’re Horde and you really want to use this place to summon a raid to attack Stormwind, you can – but it’s definitely easier to use someplace even less travelled like Cutthroat Alley or a building in the Dwarven District or the Park, since your summoned underground raid has to exit by the Docks anyways.  (Seriously, when was the last time you needed to go to the Park as Alliance?)  This is just an exploration bug, one that appeals to our innate curiosity.  I got down under the city, looked around, got some screenshots, and left satisfied.  No harm, no foul.

Exploits that confer advantages, though… Those are different.  I’ve written about Battleground Exploits before, and I don’t think my position has changed all that much.  As long as the putative exploit is open to everyone in a PvP environment, I’m pretty okay with it.  But when it’s not open to everyone, when it clearly favors one side over the other…

Well, that’s when I call foul.  And I’m calling foul now on Arathi Basin.

It is possible for Alliance characters, and only Alliance characters, to exit the preparation area and capture bases in Arathi Basin before the match begins.  This is different from the Eye of the Storm exploit which allows players to exit the claustrophobic bubble, because players can’t leave the floating rock even if they get out of the bubble.   No, you can have bases under your control before you even begin.

In a recent AB, we were 3-0 before the gates even opened.  And that was patently unfair.

A single person can transform the starting map from this, to this:

That’s what a single player with the right abilities can do if they move quickly – have one (or two, if they get to LM really fast) graveyards under Alliance control and 3 flags already collecting resources, with a fourth about to fall. A coordinated Alliance group can 5 cap the entire battleground before the Horde reaches their first flag.

This is blatantly unfair to Horde players.  And it needs to be fixed, soon.

It’s one thing if an exploit is something that both sides can engage in.  It’s not great, and should still be fixed, but at least I can justify it as something everyone should do to level the playing field until Blizzard fixes it.  But as far as I know, it’s impossible for Horde players to leave the starting area early.  The geography and layout of the Horde area prevent it.

I’m not going to go into details about how this exploit works.  The knowledge is already spreading in the wild, and the people engaged in it are happy to discuss it.

But it’s your responsibility as a player to not do it.  There’s no defense here, no gray area.  This is an exploit.

I see two simple changes to hot-fix it:

  • Change the layout of the Alliance starting area, expanding the area enclosed by the fence to prevent players from leaving.
  • Eliminate the ability to cast certain spells during the preparation phase, much like was done to Strand of the Ancients and Water Walking.

(Simple in concept, if not in execution.  I work in IT and know that software problems are often more complicated than they seem.)

Changes have been made to Arathi Basin’s geography before — the outhouse that let you climb on to the roof of the Stables was removed in one patch, and the terrain changed to make running leaps onto the roof impossible — so the first option is possible to do.  The second option is more of a bandaid fix, but one within an existing framework.

I like winning.  I really like winning.  But I don’t like winning like this.  If you see this in action, make sure you file a GM ticket reporting the person who did it.  You don’t need to cheat to win.

The Battlegrounds are probably the liveliest places in Azeroth right now, with lots of bored players rediscovering the joys of PvP while waiting for Cataclysm to hit.  Stuff like this ruins their enjoyment and gives battleground enthusiasts a bad name – no matter which side you’re playing on.

We’ve got a maintenance going on right now.  I hope it includes a fix to this exploit.

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Battleground Exploits

I remember riding back to the Stables at Arathi Basin and finding an Undead Mage on top of the roof, running around and slaughtering the Alliance troops underneath him. It was a mad run to try to DoT him up before he could kill me with massive amounts of fire or dive to the other side of the roof to heal. The stalemate was only broken when a Night Elf Death Knight also climbed up on the roof and killed the Mage.

It took me a while, but eventually I learned how to get up on that roof myself.  I’ve seen dozens of people do it, but it always seemed a tough climb for me, much like getting to the top of the Blacksmith in Goldshire.  I could never do it reliably, but if I’ve got nothing else to do while guarding the Stables I would give it a try.  When I could do it, defending became much easier.

Blizzard considers climbing onto the Stables roof to be an exploit. It doesn’t matter if you climb up via the outhouse, jump the side building, or float down via parachute cloak from the Lumber Mill — if you engage in combat from that roof, they consider it an exploit.

Yet… it’s something that is possible within the confines of rules of the game.  There’s no software being hacked, no mods being used to change any code — just some creative jumping and use of terrain to let you target opponents without them easily able to engage you in return.  Not that it’s impossible — just difficult.

I play a battleground to win.  I might play it for other reasons, but almost always, my goal is to win.  It is my duty to use every bit of my grey matter to outplan, outthink, and outfight my opponents to reach that goal.  I use potions and flasks to expand my abilities.  I use Frostweave Nets like nobody’s business.  And you better believe I will climb up on that roof to defend the Stables if need be.  Every advantage will be pursued.

Does this attitude surprise you?  It shouldn’t, and I suspect you share it.

Within the confines of Warcraft there are strict, specific limits on the things I can do and cannot do.  I cannot blow up the tunnel in WSG, even though I have charges that can blow apart a wall in the Strand of the Ancients.  I cannot use grappling hooks or ziplines to get from the Lumber Mill to Blacksmith to Mine quickly.  I am completely limited to those things that the developers allow my character to do.

How is jumping on to the Stables roof — something any character can do, though perhaps not easily — an exploit, if I’m able to do it in the game?  If hundreds of players can do it?  Through jumping?

Let’s take another battleground example: getting on top of a wall or pillar in Wintergrasp Keep by flying into position before the game starts.  Trivially easy to do, and you can take out defensive cannons and defenders with ease up there while exposing yourself to minimal risk. Smart use of the roofline and LoS, just like on the Arathi Basin Stables roof, allows you to be effectively unreachable by other players on the ground.

Is that an exploit?

The blue post says,

Players accessing any area of Arathi Basin in order to engage other players from a safe vantage point but avoid combat themselves is considered a reportable exploit.

If we use that definition, this is the very essence of an exploit.  But yet — it’s allowed to happen.  You don’t get kicked off the top of a wall when you land there, you get to stand and kill cannons with impunity.  Interestingly, if you’re on a tower you do get kicked to the ground — but only when the battle first begins.

So what gives?  Is this an exploit, or not?  I’m not trying to deliberately break the rules here, but if I can do it in the game… why shouldn’t I?  Why shouldn’t you?  How are you, someone whom I assume is not a Blizzard developer, to know if this is right or not?

I find myself in complete agreement with Cassandri when she says there’s no such thing as an exploit, at least not in the context of in-game mechanics.  There might be bugs, but bugs are not the fault of the user.  We cannot be expected to know the intent of the developers.  Quoting from that excellent article:

…(B)ecause they exist unchanged in the game, that implicitly confirms that they must be working as intended – otherwise they would be changed. We accept them and the best of us turn them to our advantage.

You don’t question whether it’s intentional or not. It’s not your place to question what is and isn’t a mistake in the game. You are a gamer. It’s your job to win.

Cass is writing about PvE in general, and the banning of Ensidia for the use of Saronite Bombs in the 25-man Lich King world first kill.  I’m staying away from discussing that specific topic because it is a charged, emotional debate about ego and bragging rights.  There  is the additional component of whether Ensidia, or Exodus, or any of the other guilds who have been taken to task for exploits in PvE, “should have known” that the encounter was not working as designed.  That’s the whole crux of the debate, actually, which is why it’s so complicated.

PvP is simpler.  If you don’t pursue every advantage — be it in gear, skill, level, consumables, positioning, macros, addons, communications, whatever — someone else will.  If you don’t send people on the walls and towers of Wintergrasp, the other side will.

And if they have an advantage that you choose not to take, you will probably lose.

I don’t want to get banned by Blizzard.  I enjoy playing their game and try to follow all the rules they set forth in their ToS.  I’m not trying to cause problems with their code or servers, or gain an unfair advantage in their economy.  I don’t want god mode cheats.  I don’t want world first titles.  I just want to play their game and enjoy it.

But when I play, I also want to win.

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How DID They Win That Wintergrasp?

WG-Fail-Train.jpg

Anyone who spends a lot of time in Durotan’s Wintergrasp is familiar with the above sight. Sometimes, no matter what you do, the Horde is able to launch a massive assault on the west wall of Wintergrasp Fortress with 8-12 Siege Engines in the first 2 minutes of the game. If all Alliance defenders, and I mean ALL defenders, don’t rush out to the west and try to stop them, the mass of siege will break through and capture the fortress in under 6 minutes.

At that point, the QQ starts. “Cheaters!” “Hax!” are some of the kinder words thrown at the Horde. But, unlike exploiting the old bug that let you drive siege through walls, this is just smart thinking by the outnumbered side, using the mechanics of the game to fight an opponent who outnumbers them 2:1 (on a good day.) The Horde groups up their siege for one massive push that the defense cannot stop.

The key is a tactic that both sides should use, no matter who has numeric superiority.

  1. Focus your kills to rank a few players up to First Lieutenant.
  2. Have those players create Demolishers and Siege Engines at the Workshop, and then abandon them to go create more.
  3. Other players without rank man the abandoned vehicles and wait.
  4. Once all vehicle slots are filled, everyone goes together.

That’s it. That’s how you win an offensive Wintergrasp battle. Group all your siege together and shove it through the walls. Organization and discipline will win you Wintergrasp.

This tactic works nearly every time; the only counter is for a very strong defense to start attacking the group as it leaves the Workshop and keep going until it stops — if the defense waits for them to hit the first wall, it’s over.

Now, there’s a legitimate question of how can a side start creating Demolishers and Siege Engines within the first 15 seconds of the game. It’s tough to rank up to First Lieutenant — my personal best is after about 45 seconds, which meant I was creating Siege Engines at 1:30 into the game. But sides with Tenacity have it a little easier.

Tenacity increases the “kill value” of NPCs, making it easier to rank up. On an imbalanced server like Durotan, where 20 stacks of Tenacity are pretty much the norm, a single NPC kill will grant First Lieutenant rank. This gives your side heavy vehicles right away, and if you are organized and disciplined at the Workshop, you can create your Siege mass within a minute.

The more commonly QQed tactic, sometimes called the Wintergrasp Logout Exploit, is to have characters log out during an active Wintergrasp battle so they can log back in to another battle in progress with their previous rank. But with the advent of queuing for Wintergrasp, this exploit just doesn’t work. The buff is removed when you queue for the battle and your status is reset. This was never really the primary reason sides massed siege — consider the logistics between this and the Tenacity option — but it was possible, so people latched on to it.

So how did the other team get 12 heavy vehicles and take Wintergrasp in under 5 minutes? It wasn’t by cheating, or using exploits, or because Blizzard hates your faction. It was because the other side had Tenacity and was organized, disciplined, and executed a massive offensive push that your side didn’t defend adequately against.

It’s okay. Don’t take it too hard. The next battle, you’re on offense. Show ‘em what you’ve got.

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