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New expansion: Druid class halls & form reskins

The new World of Warcraft expansion (Warcraft: Legion) brings with it a flurry of new features. A few of the changes are particularly interesting to the druid class. The new expansion overall looks amazing – with tons of different lore progression on a bunch of different story threads. This story is for all the WOW lore fans who want to see the main story’s progression back at home in Azeroth.

Artifact weapons – Clarification for kitties

First, the new Artifact Weapon system will allow for customizing legendary weapons, with awesome new skins and lore. However, feral and guardian druids can’t see their weapons. So, instead, your cat and bear skins will change based on the weapon customization.

Updated cat druid models

Note that they did not say ANYTHING about restoration or moonkin druids. I’m seeking clarification on what is happening with moonkin/resto (mostly by spamming everyone on twitter). For cat and bear druids, we know that the choices you make about your artifact weapon change your skins. However, moonkin and resto druids can already see their weapons – so we need more specific clarification on whether moonkin keep their 1.0 models while cats get to be fangs of the first nightsaber.

The other thing they didn’t talk about was whether or not you could have more than one artifact weapon. We don’t yet know how artifact weapons interact with Dual Specs. If you run two different specs and actually use them – are you locked to only one spec due to the weapon system, or can you progress more than one weapon? Overall, the idea of artifact weapons sound neat, but we’ll have to see how the practical implications work.

UPDATE: The press kit came with pictures of what we believe to be the Fang’s weapon graphic you would see outside of your feral form:

WoW7.0_Artifact_Fang_TF_03_PNGWoW7.0_Artifact_Fang_TF_00_PNGWoW7.0_Artifact_Fang_TF_04_PNG

Druid Class Halls – Druids are for fun times with friends

In the announcement, they talked about a class-specific hall where members of your class will come together. This builds off the concept of garrisons, but are seemingly more social hubs for activity. This means for druids that we will be able to host frequent dance parties. I expect to organize druid parties periodically for hanging out in our druid class halls. This has a chance to be a really fun feature, if done correctly. If anything, however, the druid hall will be the best hall. Druids are for fun times with friends!

Emerald Dream raid and druid lore

Not to be outdone by features, this expansion will have a significant amount of druid lore (including the site where Malfurion first learned about druidism). This includes a long awaited raid where we will venture into the Emerald Dream. Thus, for people who thought Warlords of Draenor fell short in terms of lore, there will be tons of lore for everyone to look forward to!

WoW_7.0Zones_ValSharah_EM_017

Talents specific for PVP

They are making a change to the PVP system that will include talents designed only for PVP. This will change how your druid plays in PVP compared to PVE. This expanded PVP system includes a lot of different features that will be relevant to everyone. However, a different set of talents for PVP may ultimately give more flexibility in balancing the class.

I will definitely be here blogging all of the new expansion news, views, and changes – particularly those relevant to druids. At this point, given the heavy class-focus, I may even consider going back to my druid  for my primary character. I look forward to what the future brings!

Posted in Druid - General, Feral DPS Cat, Legion, Player Versus Player, Written By Lissanna

Raiding guilds in WOW need more support

My leadership background:

I first became an officer of a raiding guild in Vanilla. I was an officer on and off thru burning crusade and wrath of the lich king. I’ve been an officer of the same guild since we formed Undying Resolution at the end of the ICC raid tier. We kept together a 25-man raid team all of Cataclysm and Mists of Pandaria. We still have a roster of about 25 raid members today to support our 20-man mythic encounters.

One of the reasons why our guild stayed strong and we never fell apart in Cataclysm and Mists of Pandaria is how we built a reward structure to reward our raiders and keep them motivated during long periods of time during which we had new content (e.g., a year and a half in the same raid tier). We have many of the same members we started with, but we often have new recruits in our raid team. We often have to recruit people from off server because most of the rest of the raiding guilds on my server died in Cataclysm due to their inability to support 25-man raiding teams anymore (and then the 10 progression teams dwindled over MOP).

Rewarding Raiders:

Our guild incentive reward system is all about positive reinforcement. We give positive things to people for hard work. One of these incentives come in the form of having a well stocked guild bank full of raiding supplies. Another is the use of raid repairs. Higher ranks in our guild have more access to repairs and more access to raid supplies. Getting a promotion in our guild is a big deal. People look forward to being promoted to a higher rank in the guild, and losing your rank is a big deal. We even have a Crusader rank that we made so that people who had gone above and beyond for the guild could be rewarded with a permanent life-time rank even if they left the game or quit raiding that rewarded their lifetime service.

Having a functional guild bank and repairs is a costly, but important, aspect of our reward system. We primarily do loot drops in the raid with Master Looter and the EPGP point system addon. This EPGP system (combined with guild ranks) are the primary tools we have available to us to reward people for attending raids and following our rules. The BOE drops from raids is often the primary way that we run our guild bank and provide our guild with rewards.  In 2013, when we didn’t have access to BOE drops, this was really harmful to our ability to continue offering our guild bank and repairs. I documented this problem that many people were experiencing in a previous blog post on this topic:

http://www.restokin.com/2013/10/guild-leadership-corner-where-have-all-the-guild-funds-gone/

However, Blizzard solved this problem by re-introducing BOE drops in Warlords of Draenor after a full raid tier of guilds complaining about raid drops. This background is important because I feel the need to explain that my guild is full of amazing people before I talk about the problem.

The 6.2 problem:

In patch 6.2, Master Looter only works for boss drops. Trash drops are now personal loot only. The BOEs can be traded, but it is not a trival problem to have to ask your raiders to hand over loot from their inventory to put in the guild bank or hand to raid leaders. It’s not trival to have to ask your friends to hand over things that dropped for them in raids.

So, guilds like mine that fund their activities by selling BOEs that drop off trash now have to make a decision. One option is to basically punish your raid members by forcing them to hand you loot they won off trash mobs. It’s one thing to just never hand them the loot. It’s a totally different thing to ask people to hand over things from their inventory so that they can be given away to other people. We could do this, but it would basically negate all the subtle positive reinforcement we had been giving them. It sucks to have to hand over an epic item you personally won because you picked up off the ground and give YOUR loot to someone else. When it always just belonged to the master looter officer, the members never had any time in which those items belonged to them. In the short-term, we can ask the guild to donate the BOEs they win in raids. But, this is really a poor usability design problem. Our current members might be willing to donate all the BOEs they get in the raid to the guild, but this isn’t fun and it sucks to have to track who is or isn’t donating their stuff.

The other solution is to close off guild repairs entirely (because we can’t afford them without those BOE drops). We could still theoretically have the guild bank run entirely on individual donations. While individual donations can work, this means we have much less to offer our members. This puts more burden on the people who stock the bank to keep lists of things we need & post the lists to our guild. This puts more burden on the individual guild members who go out and collect the items we need.

Most guilds at this point are opting for just not having guild repairs or a guild bank because Blizzard didn’t supply guilds with good ways of keeping our guilds happy, healthy, and running. Trying to offer more “friendship” as a reward for being in our guild only goes so far in convincing new players to spend $60 to join us. The health of our functioning guild bank was a tool we could use to show potential new members the fact that we were good at organizing our group. Now we either give up the health of that guild bank or we tell new players they will have to give us all their stuff if they come join us.

Either way, guilds greatly lose out by not having a functioning income that allows us to offer perks for membership. Membership perks are part of how you convince strangers to join your team and give you a chance. In College sports, they give scholarships to new team members as a recruitment tool. In our guild, we offer guild repairs and a functioning guild bank much the same way that colleges offer scholarships to join their team.

Guilds need more support.

With the change where BOEs no longer belong to the guild officers, we either have to tell our guild members to give us all the loot they won, or we have to offer fewer rewards to our guild members directly ourselves. While many of our guild members would be happy to hand over their loot, this still reduces their fun and increases the administrative burden for officers. A guild is basically a sports team where the team leaders have a really hard job. Anything that makes guild leadership harder is bad for the game because it makes our friends get tired of being leaders and makes them want to give up.

If guilds are no longer in control of BOEs that drop in our raids, we need to find new and better ways support our raid leaders and guild officers.
The BOE drops were really a band-aid on the problem of guilds lacking a good income to support our team. If BOE drops are no longer a good way to support our team, Blizzard needs to give guild officers better recruitment tools and income sources so that people will want to come play on our teams. I love my guild, but we need a better way of supporting how hard guild offers work.

There are plenty of other ways to give more gold to the guild to support the leadership (such as offering more guild-level gold for killing more bosses in raids). We could also have guild bonuses that reduced repair costs. We could have more cauldrons and feasts to reduce the cost of raiding materials for raiding guilds. I’d be happy giving up BOEs and having other shared resource options instead.

Guilds also need better recruitment tools to support forming new guilds and helping to keep guilds happy and running. In the end, guilds need more support. Taking away what little support we’ve been given is harmful to the health of our families we spent so much time working to build.

Posted in Guild Leadership, Patch 6.2, Written By Lissanna

Happy 6.2 patch day for druids and mages

The 6.2 patch is hitting the servers this week, with a new raid, a new questing zone, and various class changes. With playing both a druid and a mage, I’ll cover a couple things for resto and balance druids, with a bonus “what should I be?” for mages.

General updates:

Resto druid updates:

  • The good news for resto druids is that you didn’t change very much this patch. So, healing should be very similar in 6.2 compared to today. Overall, resto druids are solid in terms of healing toolset and output.
  • Note, however, that hunters’ aspect of the fox went away and can’t be paired with tranquility anymore (so, no more Tranq on the move).
  • The Tier 18 set bonuses buff your Lifebloom. The 2-piece makes your lifebloom HOT have a chance to proc a big burst ‘bloom’ periodically, and the 4-piece allows you to put lifebloom on both of your tanks. This should help make you more competitive as a tank healer, though the lifebloom ‘bloom’ procs are totally random and risk overhealing.
  • The legendary healing ring comes with a group buff you have to be aware of. When one person activates the ring, it increases all healing being done and causes all raid members to share a shield blanket that absorbs damage for the amount that people heal for. So, this basically becomes a very powerful AOE heal for all raid members that needs to be timed in progression fights – BUT only one person can use it a fight (e.g., like heroism). In LFR, expect random people to pop it at the wrong time – because that’s just how LFR rolls.
  • The druid trinket from Archimonde (seed of creation) allows druid rejuv & lifebloom heals to sometimes ‘cleave’ to heal a second person.
  • Other than those minor things to be aware of, you can mostly continue on doing what you were doing. Druids are still fine for healing overall (not the best persay, but certainly good enough to bring to raids).

Balance druid updates:

  • All the major changes to balance druids shouldn’t impact your rotation. They just did fixes to make gear scaling work better, which has always been a problem for balance druids and a few other classes.
  • The balance Tier 18 set bonuses don’t change your rotation or healing style. You have a chance to gain a temporary damage-dealing pet (2-piece) and that pet increases your damage (4-piece), similar to some of the other set bonuses.
  • The damage legendary ring group bonus will be something moonkin won’t actually hit the button for, as the person who uses it should be in melee range. You do, however, get a damage bonus when one of your melee uses the legendary ring effect. If you want to use it at the start of the fight in LFR, you are welcome to run in and pop it in melee range (but I can pretty much guarantee you that if anyone else has it, they’re doing the same thing).
  • The trinket has a chance for starsurge to also cast a starfall effect. So, you should use this in guiding whether you glyph starfall (untamed stars) or not (e.g., do you want starfall to hit one thing or many things?). The glyph may be swapped out between fights as necessary.

Mage updates:

The changes to mages mean that mages have to make more substantial decisions than druids do in the patch – namely, which of the 3 specs should they be? As always, gearing and skill are going to impact how much damage you do. So, changing specs isn’t guaranteed to be a damage increase for you and will require practice time to perfect rotations (plus you have to change your gear/enchants/gems/food).

  • The ‘right’ answer of “what mage spec should I be for Mythic HFC?” is “arcane for single-target plus either frost or fire for cleave/AOE fights, depending on where you are in progression”. If you never intend to do Mythic HFC, then frost actually becomes a much more viable choice (see below).
  • They did some pretty major buffs to frost mages in 6.2, since frost was having a hard time keeping up as the other specs got more gear. Thus, while I had dropped my frost spec entirely for the end of BRF progression (in favor of fire for all the AOE fights), frost is now more viable for HFC raids; particularly if you are working on fights where you can cleave to two or more targets. Frost is going to suffer from scaling problems (and there is a risk that some future bug fixes might substantially nerf frost damage again); so frost is really only an optimal choice for normal/heroic raiders who want one good spec they can use for all the fights without having to swap between two specs. TLDR: Frost wins if you want one well-rounded spec, particularly for normal/heroic HFC.
  • Arcane is by far the best single-target fight but suffers from basically a complete lack of notable cleave/AOE damage compared to the other two options. So, if what you really care about is being the best single-target damage dealer you can be, then arcane is the best choice. Note that the stat priority changes for the Tier 18 arcane and makes haste more powerful when you have the pet that doesn’t scale with your mastery (See the altered time post). Basically, if you go arcane – mastery is better than haste until you have the 2-piece set bonus for Tier 18. After that, you want to spec for haste over mastery. TLDR: Arcane is good single-target and weak AOE.
  • Fire is by far the best at AOE compared to the other specs; this is what made fire so powerful in all the AOE fights the last raid tier. Fire is less helpful in HFC because there are fewer good AOE/cleave fights where fire was really ahead on the PTR and the changes that end up nerfing fire damage leave fire behind on single-target quite significantly (enough to make fire single-target outright bad on any of the simcraft data). If you don’t ever intend to do mythic, then you could probably get away with staying fire for normal or heroic, but even in lower gear levels, your single-target will likely leave something to be desired unless you have lucky crits that boost your damage. TLDR: Fire is weak single-target and good AOE.
  • There is a larger FAQ for mages over at the Altered Time forums covering all other important things you should know.

TLDR: Balance and resto druids are fine enough for now – you didn’t get redesigned this patch (YAY!). Mages have to drop fire for any single-target fights and go arcane (or frost) instead.

Posted in Druid - General, Mage, Moonkin Balance DPS, Patch 6.2, Restoration Healing Trees, Written By Lissanna

Breaking the echo-chamber: usability and data driven design

One thing that game companies have a lot of is data. They record tons of ‘big’ data using their various analytics. However, this only tells the company what people have done (where did they go? What did they click on? How often do they log in? How much money are we making?). This big analytics data says nothing about how people feel (Why did they do something? Did they enjoy what they did? What changes would make people happier?). The use of usability testing to generate data can help break up echo-chambers that are likely to form within companies or within feedback forums.

To understand the motivation of players and to understand the ‘why’ in player behavior, game companies need to do actual psychology testing of their game via surveys and lab testing. The New York Times recently ran an article on the importance of “small” data (titled “How not to drown in numbers”). In it, the article highlights the fact that Facebook not only measures clicks, but asks people “why?” via surveys.

With regards to video game companies, one that has been very successful in using ‘small’ data is Riot Games, who produce League of Legends. Part of the success driven by League of Legends comes from maximizing enjoyment via using user data to decide how to make future changes in the game. They pilot potential future game content with the help of psychologists. The most obvious use of data by Riot is their player behavior team that has significantly reduced negative player behavior in the game, which they continue to develop today. Their older GDC talk about how their ‘small’ data collection improved the game can be found here. Riot’s data collection taught us that it was possible to reduce negative player behavior, even if it wasn’t possible to completely eliminate negative behavior.

The interesting part of Riot is that they extended this value of data collection into every aspect of the game’s design. This includes surveys about the amount of money people were willing to pay for services, such as new skins (or what types of new skins players would want). If something appears in the game, it is likely a combination of designer’s ideas and people who tested the potential impacts of those ideas before they were implemented.

Riot’s approach differs significantly from companies who design primarily based on their own developer’s guts with little or no integration of surveys or other usability data. Usability testing can help to see whether or not people are having fun. There is no way to measure fun other than to actually interact with users via usability testing  (whether survey-based or observation of players). The best design is user-centered design, rather than trusting that other people will use a product in the way that designers intend. Design needs to care about usability and player experiences. For people interested in usability testing, Carol Barnum has a book titled “Usability Testing Essentials: Ready, Set… Test!” there are also plenty of other resources to learn about how to measure player behavior and enjoyment.

Regardless of the methods, ignoring the experiences of players can result in designing without knowing what users will do in the future, or how players feel.  While it is unlikely that any designer can make everyone happy all the time, understanding players’ thoughts, motivations, and goals can improve the design of games. User testing allows for understanding how people will react to things that are not yet released out in the wild. While tools like feedback forums are helpful, the use of actual targeted user testing and survey data gives much better samples and avoids the echo-chamber problem that can happen inside offices or discussion forums. Frustrating players by making them feel like their thoughts and feelings don’t matter ends up hurting companies. Interacting with users via actual experiments and surveys can help to make sure that data being used to inform game design in meaningful ways. In the rise of big data via analytics after the game’s release, we can’t forget the importance of measuring whether or not people are having fun now, or could be having MORE fun in the future. A little psychology driving user experience testing can go a long way in improving game design. I just wish more game companies invested in psychologists as a core part of their design teams.

Posted in Research on video games, Written By Lissanna

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