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

Moonkin Logs – Sorting the Feathers from the Fluff

Today I’m going to walk you through how to analyze Moonkin logs from Warcraft Logs.  Analyzing logs is the easiest way to find out what you’re doing wrong, and how you can improve as a Druid.  I’m going to assume you know absolutely nothing about Warcraft Logs, so bear with me if you have some familiarity.

First we need to find your logs.  Go to the Warcraft Logs home page and type your character’s name into the search bar.  Select the right name/realm combination to bring up the rankings screen.  If your name/realm combination doesn’t appear on the list you don’t have any logs uploaded.  You need to download the client from the link at the top of the page, and run it while raiding to record and upload your logs.  If you don’t have any logs of your own to use, you can use my logs and follow along.

With the rankings screen, we want to figure out how you stack up against other Druids of similar ilevel.  Using the ilevel bracket menu, select the ilevel of your character (select 695+ if using my logs.) This will filter out all logs not withing your ilevel bracket, and adjust the percentiles accordingly.  The number in the “Historical %” column is the important one – 50% is the average parse, and higher is better.


To find mistakes and target improvements we have to look at the actual combat log.  Click any one of your parses in the table to open up the logs.  This will open up the Damage Done tab of the log as seen below.

The first mistake we look for is Casting in the wrong eclipse.  This is one of the most basic principles of Balance, so you’re probably already doing it right, and it’s super easy to fix if you’re not.  Click your name from the damage done tab (see above) to open up your damage source graph as seen below.

From this graph we’re looking at the brown peaks.  These peaks correspond to Wrath casts, so double check the colors in your log.  Wrath peaks should be roughly symmetrical and span about 20 seconds (if using Euphoria.)  Peaks wider than 20 seconds means Wrath is being casted in Lunar eclipse, and peaks smaller than 20s means Starfire is being casted in Solar.  It’s not the end of the world if your peaks aren’t nicely shaped – it simply means you missed a cast for whatever reason.


The second thing we look for is Potion usage.  This is super easy to find.  Open up the ‘buffs’ tab and look for how many counts of the “Draenic Intellect Potion” you have.  You should have 2.

Next we want to look at Cooldown Usage.  We can do so from the screen we are already on, the buffs tab.  Look for Celestial Alignment and Incarnation: Chosen of Elune.  Incarnation should be used on pull and every 3 minutes afterwards (2 uses in 3 minutes, 3 in 6 minutes, 4 in 9 minutes etc.) and Celestial Alignment should be double that (if you have the 4 set bonus) or the same (without 4 set bonus.)  Check to make sure the cooldowns are being used enough, and then check to make sure that Incarnation and odd-numbered Celestial Alignments are being used together.  It should be noted that there are some fights in BRF where cooldowns are not used on pull or saved for specific mechanics, in those fights simply look for number of usages and usage at the correct times.


Our Fourth mistake to look for is Starsurge usage and Empowerement consumption.  First we want to make sure that Starsurge charges are being used enough.  We determine how many charges are available by adding our Shooting Stars procs to the base generation.  The forumla you should use is 3 + (SS procs) + (fight length in seconds / 30s).  Calculating from my Gruul log shown above, we have 3 + (25) + (294/30) = 37.8.  We always round this number down because you can’t use 0.8 Starsurge charges.  In my parse I had 37 available Starsurges and I used 33.  This means I lost SS charges to being charge-capped at some point during the fight.  The number of Starsurge uses can be found on the damage source screen we used earlier.

Looking for Empowerement consumption is quite difficult and time consuming, and I’d advise you don’t bother unless you’re trying to squeeze out every drop of DPS.  The buff stacks are not tracked in the combat log, meaning we have to use cast sequences to determine buff overwrites.  First click the “Casts” tab, then scroll down and click the “+” sign at the far left of the row for Starsurge, Starfire, and Wrath.  You should be left with a screen that looks like this:

To look for overwrites, look for each cast of starsurge (yellow peak, middle graph) and check the Starfire/Wrath graphs for 2 Starfire or 3 wrath casts before another Starsurge peak appears.  This is very imprecise and difficult, so as I said earlier don’t concern yourself too much with this.  Give it a quick once-over looking for obvious Starsurge casts without Starfires/Wraths in between.


The second-last thing we look for is Idle time.  Time where you’re not casting or performing actions.  We can do this from the casts tab.  On the very bottom graph (the one with grey & orange peaks) click on all the greyed-out spell names at the top of the graph to add peaks for each spell.  When the graph is showing all your casts simultaneously, there should be no large gaps.  Large gaps means downtime, and downtime means lost DPS.  If there are large gaps, make a note of the time they appear, and keep track of those timestamps for our final step.


The final step is examining Movement for mechanics.  In the top right of the page click on “replay” to bring up the fight replay.  Click on everyone’s name except your own to hide their movements, and show only yours.  Start the replay and look for large and unnecessary movements that kill your DPS.  Check the timestamps you recorded in the last step to see if the gaps in casting correspond with movement.  This is again one of the more difficult things to analyze as you have to be able to determine for yourself if movement is necessary or superfluous.


Outside of looking for those specific mistakes, the best way to figure out what you’re doing wrong is to compare your log to that of a more experienced/progressed Boomkin.  You’re welcome to use my public-access logs to compare yourself to, or I’d recommend using logs from Sepe-Ner’zhul.  Sepe is one of the top boomkins in the world and consistently has excellent parses throughout progression.


If you’re still struggling to figure out what you’re doing wrong, feel free to tweet your logs to me @Starfeathers, and I’ll see what I can pull out for you.  Also I highly encourage you all to support Kihra in the maintenance and development of Warcraft Logs by supporting the patreon at

Posted in Druid - General, Moonkin Balance DPS, Patch 6.0, Patch 6.2, Written By Alame

New 6.2 patch news!

Blizzard put the patch 6.2 content on the PTR last night. Thus, the WOW community has now had some time to digest the patch notes and the datamined content. There are a couple key points worth highlighting early on that aren’t necessarily as easy to see from the quest notes and datamined info.

The 6.2 patch has a ton of content. Following a small content patch in 6.1, all of the new real patch content for the entire expansion is being released all at once. They are opening an entire new end-game content zone (Tanaan Jungle), a raid dungeon, small 5-man group content, and the last legendary ring quests. It should be a really great and entertaining patch with something for everyone. This will be a huge patch with tons of things to do right when the patch launches. However, as this includes the end of the legendary ring quests, this is likely to be the last real raid tier of the expansion as predicted. It may be possible to see a 6.3 patch, but it looks much more like they put all their eggs in the 6.2 patch basket. This expansion feels more like two mini expansions rolled into one, rather than having content spread out over time across different patches.

Tanaan Jungle’s description pretty much guarantees that flying won’t come back. They have highlighted the content being more ‘open world’ questing, treasure puzzles, and rare spawns. This design is similar to the Timeless Isle except for one thing – Tanaan Jungle is a giant zone in the middle of the map. So, if you can’t fly in Tanaan Jungle, you can’t fly anywhere else, either. Tanaan Jungle is also going to be content that is gated by the garrison interactions, in that you can only unlock the TJ content if you have a level 3 garrison and construct your shipyard. So, if you love jumping puzzles in WOD so far and loved the Timeless Isle, I can pretty much guarantee you that you will love Tanaan Jungle. This also comes with a new batch of daily quests, so perhaps we can get a little more out of Tanaan Jungle than we did out of the Timeless Isle in terms of reasons to keep returning over time. If those things aren’t your cup of tea, I’m sure there will be plenty of garrison missions to help keep you entertained. The garrison will come with more follower missions, including being able to build ships and send ships out into battle.

Blizzard’s design team is removing more class-related utility. The patch notes come with the removal of two raid buffs: Hunters are losing aspect of the fox, and mages are losing amplify magic. These two raid buffs weren’t huge, but the mage’s amplify magic spell was a brand new spell we’ve only had for a couple months in the first place.

Will the legendary ring procs may provide much more significant raid utility? Shortly after posting about the legendary ring procs, the @warcraftdevs twitter posted that the datamined legendary ring procs were outdated. So, it’s possible that the internal testing hasn’t shown the bouncing raid utility buffs to be a good idea. This isn’t really surprising, but I’ll withhold judgement until we see the final procs. I would still expect to see multiple versions of the ring procs across beta if they are trying to do something other than just provide traditional bonuses.

Look at this pretty birdThere will be a lot more info coming in the next few months. However, the recolored dread raven bird mount that comes as the raid achievement reward next patch is really pretty. There are other fun toys & mounts coming next patch for all the collectors. There is plenty of stuff to look forward to in the next patch. Keep in mind that everything is subject to change this early in a patch cycle.

MMO-champion datamined picture of the dread raven bird mount.

Posted in Patch 6.2, Warlords of Draenor, Written By Lissanna
Tags: , , , ,

Druid Selfies and outdated forms

The 6.1 patch came with a new Selfie camera, that allows you to take close-up pictures of your face. This is great for the new races that got face upgrades recently in Warlords. This Selfie camera does not work quite so well with some of the druid forms. Particularly problematic are the stumpy tree form arms that make the camera zoom close into your terrifying face. resto tree selfieMoonkin, instead, appear to have an invisible ‘selfie stick’ that allows the camera to zoom farther from your face. This mostly just hides the fact that moonkin doesn’t look so great close-up either. The camera still reminds me of why moonkin needs a new updated model. If moonkin looked better, I might consider playing moonkin more often. Buff moonkin shapeshift graphics, please! :)

Moonkin Selfie

You still, however, can take some pretty nice pictures with this new selfie camera even as a druid (even if you aren’t quite sure who is holding the camera, anyway).


Posted in Druid - General, Written By Lissanna
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